Access to Primary Care

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons at on 17 October 2023.

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Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

What steps he is taking to improve access to primary care services.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

What steps he is taking to improve access to primary care services.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Our primary care recovery plan supports GP practices in addressing the 8 am rush for appointments, cutting bureaucracy for GPs and expanding community pharmacy services. We have recruited over 31,000 additional primary care staff and have over 2,000 more doctors working in general practice, compared with before the pandemic.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

People are finding it nigh-on impossible to see their GP when they need to. Labour has pledged to guarantee face-to-face appointments when people want them by training more NHS GPs but, as my constituents point out to me, under the Tories, a two-tier healthcare system is emerging where some are forced to pay to be seen quicker while those that cannot afford it are left behind in agony. Why have the Conservatives broken their promise, made in 2019, to deliver 6,000 more GPs, and when will this GP crisis finally be resolved?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

There is a two-tier approach within the UK, between what is going on with the NHS in Wales and what is going on in England. We have more appointments, more staff—over 2,000 more doctors and over 31,000 additional roles—and more tech, with £240 million invested in delivering the digital telephony and the online booking system so that we can get patients to the right level of care with an appointment as part of our commitment to 50 million more appointments in primary care.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

In my constituency of Aylesbury we have some absolutely fantastic GPs and some brilliant services being delivered, thanks in part to many of the policies that have been introduced under this Government. I thank my right hon. Friend for continuing with that. However, there are still challenges for constituents to get through to their GP surgery to make an appointment in the first place. He has just mentioned digital telephony. Could he update the House on the progress that is being made on rolling out this technology to health centres to end the incredibly frustrating waits that people have, sometimes being on hold on the phone for hours at a time?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Through that £240 million, we have 100% adoption from GP practices that want to take part in receiving those funds and putting digital telephony in place if they have not already done so. This includes call-back, which allows people to know where they are in the queue, and links to online booking, which allows us to maximise the 31,000 additional roles that we have put into primary care so that people can see the specialist that they need. In my hon. Friend’s own integrated care board, appointments for July increased from 768,000 last July to 816,000 this July, so more patients are being seen, more appointments are taking place and more tech investment is going into the practices in his area.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

To listen to the Secretary of State, you would think it was all going so well, so let me give him a reality check. In Tamworth last year, only a third of patients said it was easy to get through to their doctor on the phone, one in three GP appointments were not conducted face to face and fewer than half of patients were offered a choice of appointment. The Government are not listening to the people of Tamworth. Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to explain to the people of Tamworth why, after 13 years of Conservative Government, this is the case, and better still, adopt Labour’s plan to cut red tape, incentivise continuity of care and bring back the family doctor.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised GPs in Tamworth. The GP lead for the Doctors Association said that his plans for general practice filled them with despair, and his proposal for GP nationalisation was mocked by the Nuffield Trust, one of the respected think-tanks. The reality is that this Government are investing in more tech in primary care, have recruited 31,000 additional roles into primary care and have over 2,000 more doctors working in primary care than before the pandemic. Those are the facts. His plans have been mocked by respected think-tanks because he talks a good game on reform but we know that he will never stand up to the trade unions.