General practice has remained open throughout the pandemic, offering face-to-face appointments as well as telephone and online consultations, while playing a leading role in our vaccination programme. We are enormously grateful to general practices, the GPs and their broader teams for everything that they have done, but to ensure that general practice can continue to provide all necessary and appropriate care during this very busy time, we have made an additional £270 million available until September.
If it is done right, we can use technology and data to improve healthcare services, improve patient outcomes and help to save lives, so I welcome the proposals for a new GP data system, but it is vital that we get this right with the appropriate protections in place. With that in mind, will the Minister update the House on these vital reforms?
I could not agree more. Data saves lives —it is as simple as that. We have seen that in the pandemic, and it is one of the lessons of the vaccine roll-out. The GP data programme will strengthen the system and save lives. Patient data is, of course, owned by the patient. We are absolutely determined to take people with us on this journey. We have therefore decided that we will proceed with the important programme, but we will take some extra time, as we have conversed with stakeholders over the past couple of days. The implementation date will now be 1 September. We will use this time to talk to patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan, build a trusted research environment and ensure that data is accessed securely. This agenda is so important, because we all know that data saves lives.
I have been contacted in recent weeks by quite a number of constituents who are struggling to get a GP appointment, but we have a pre-covid problem as well, which is that thousands and thousands of new houses have gone into the constituency without an increase in GP services. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how to get my constituents the GP services that they need and deserve?
It is right that local health commissioners pay careful regard to the impact of new housing and growing areas, which is to be welcomed. I understand that both practices in my hon. Friend’s area are still accepting patients and that the Oxfordshire clinical commissioning group has been working closely with the practices in Wantage to make sure that the impact of housing growth is being accommodated, which I expect all CCGs and councils to be doing. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.
I recently met two cancer groups in Sedgefield, the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust and the Great Aycliffe Cancer Support Group, and heard about the wonderful work that they have been doing over the past year. We also discussed how delayed GP appointments have affected early diagnosis of important medical issues such as cancer. Early diagnosis is necessary to provide patients with the best chance of stopping the cancer spreading and of recovering. Furthermore, the later cancer is caught, the more complicated cases become; they take more time and more resources and, of course, are horribly distressing. Will the Minister please tell me what is being done to ensure that backlogs in appointments are being addressed as urgently as possible?
I pay tribute to all the cancer charities out there who have done sterling work during the pandemic. As I have said, GP services are open, and they are offering different forms of communication with patients. We are running the Help Us, Help You campaign so that people can come forward when they have symptoms. As my hon. Friend says, identifying cancers early to save lives is part of the long-term plan, but I would like to assure him that my latest data showed that in March 2021 we had the highest ever recorded number of GP referrals for cancer. GPs are working really hard, and if patients are worried about any symptoms, they need to come forward.
For GPs and for the NHS more broadly, using data effectively is an important way to restore our health services. However, the current plans to take this data from GPs, assemble it in one place and sell it to unknown commercial interests for purposes unknown has no legitimacy whatsoever. There has been no public engagement and no explanation; this has simply been snuck out under the cover of darkness—[Interruption.] I will get there, Minister; do not worry. This is an NHS data grab. The news of the delay is welcome and I am glad that the hon. Lady has made that commitment, but within that, will she commit to ensuring that the 23 June opt-out date is also moved to 1 September and that there will be a full public consultation on whether people want their data used for these purposes?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan). We will be considering everything in the round. As I have said, I have spoken to many of the stakeholders involved and as we move forward we will be ensuring that we take all trusted individuals with us to build confidence in the system.