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Primary Care: Patient Access

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2023

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that, with huge thanks to all the superb GPs and health teams, our manifesto commitment for 50 million more general practice appointments a year compared with 2019 has now been delivered. Our primary care recovery plan is addressing access challenges by tackling the 8 am rush for appointments, cutting bureaucracy for GPs and, of course, expanding community pharmacy services.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but let me correct her. Since 2014, the number of GP practices in Bedford and Kempston has decreased from 18 to 11; there are fewer doctors, while the patient list has increased; and the number of patients per qualified GP now stands at 2,812, which is a rise of 60%. Will the Minister apologise to GPs and to my constituents, who face a daily struggle to access a GP because her Government have decimated NHS primary care services?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that 50 million more appointments between 2019 and now is a fantastic increase. There are just under 4,000 new GPs since 2019, and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that through the post-covid recovery plan to improve access we have said to GP practices that they should provide urgent appointments on the same day and for every patient within two weeks. That has significantly improved access for patients, and GP appointments are now being hugely supported by access to community first, our flagship programme to improve healthcare throughout the country.

I am incredibly grateful for the significant increase in the number of GP appointments offered to residents in my constituency. However, last week Aspire announced that it wishes to close the Lower Stoke surgery on the Hoo peninsula, where the council proposes to build thousands of homes. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how I can work further with the integrated care board? I have been trying over a number of years now to work with the ICB so that it can come up with a plan for how it will deliver much-needed services, so I would be very grateful for the Minister’s help.

I am of course always delighted to meet my hon. Friend to talk about issues in her constituency. I reiterate that 50 million more GP appointments is brilliant news. Our flagship Pharmacy First programme will mean that more low-level infections and problems—such as sinusitis, oral contraception, impetigo and various other conditions—can be treated by community pharmacists at great convenience to patients, and it will expand GPs’ ability to deal with more complex problems. All these things are alleviating the pressures on primary care and are very good news right across the country.

A primary care walk-in facility at Warren Farm in my constituency faces closure due to the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. The proposal to close the service will mean that services are relocated away from residents who need them. What is the Minister doing to fund the investigation and removal of RAAC in health facilities while making sure that communities can still access the healthcare that they so desperately need?

I am incredibly sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s constituents. The issue of RAAC is one that the Government are determined to resolve. There has been a £698 million programme of new funding to eradicate RAAC from the healthcare system, and that work is under way. She will appreciate that it is for integrated care boards to ensure that the provision is there for all patients but, if she should need help with contacting or negotiating with her ICB, I will be delighted to help her.

A recent report highlighted the fact that in September there were 15,000 missed GP appointments in Cornwall. That is 15,000 appointments that could have gone to people desperately waiting to see their GP. It is happening month after month. Does the Minister agree that that is completely unacceptable, and can she highlight what steps the Government will take to address the issue?

My hon. Friend is right; it is appalling that people book an appointment and then do not show up. In many GP surgeries now they post the numbers of patients who do not turn up for their appointments and urge people to make the effort to cancel. As part of our access to primary care, we are creating digital tools so that GP surgeries can notify patients that they have an upcoming appointment and say, “If you don’t need it, press here and it will cancel the appointment.” Measures such as that make it easier for people to cancel, but he is quite right that it is incumbent on us all, if we book that appointment, to turn up for it.