My hon. Friend's local NHS, like those in the rest of England, is planning a new GP-led health centre, open from 8 am to 8 pm, seven days a week. I understand that the proposal is to locate it near to Clapham Junction station.
I thank my hon. Friend for recognising the health needs of Battersea in that new proposal, and in various other proposals to extend GP-led health centres. Will he assure my constituents that the range of facilities that can be offered in the new GP-led health centre will be far greater than can currently be provided in the Bolingbroke hospital, which is held in great affection, but is an old and impractical building?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the range of services provided in the new health centres will be big, and will meet the needs of the local population, which is one of the criteria we have laid down. I can also tell him that plans for the expansion of health services in his area are not restricted to this particular GP-led health centre. I understand that there are also plans to expand services at Doddington, Bridge lane and St. John's, including primary care services.
In Battersea, the provision of primary care is vital to the health of the community, but according to the Royal College of General Practitioners, seeing a doctor who knows the patient and their medical condition personally is important to more than 75 per cent. of patients. Yet the Secretary of State recently said that he "could not care less" which GP he sees. That is totally out of touch with patient needs both in Battersea and elsewhere. Can the Minister confirm that continuity of care is important to the vast majority of patients, particularly those with long-term conditions? If so, why are he and the Secretary of State centrally imposing polyclinics, against patients' needs and wishes?
Yes, I am happy to confirm what the hon. Gentleman asks me to confirm. However, what he says is another of the myths that were peddled by both the Opposition and the British Medical Association, at the time, in their opposition to new GP health centres. I do not know whether he has now abandoned the Conservative party's opposition to the centres. I suspect that the Conservatives will quietly abandon that opposition, because where the new centres are opening, they are incredibly popular, not least with local Conservative councillors and Conservative MPs who want theirs to open as quickly as possible.
Of course continuity of care is important for many patients, particularly those with long-term conditions. However, many people, such as professionals who are otherwise healthy and who are juggling work and family life, find it very difficult to see their GP, because of opening times. They warmly welcome the opportunity to see a GP, and they do not particularly mind whether it is always the same GP.