General Practice: Large Housing Developments — [Peter Dowd in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:03 am on 29th March 2022.

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Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage 10:03 am, 29th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Selous on securing the debate. He and I got talking a few weeks ago because I asked a question at Prime Minister’s questions too. In it, I gave some figures about the growth in my constituency. The largest town, Didcot, is set to be 42% larger in 2027 than it was just a decade earlier. Wantage and Grove, the second largest area, is set to be 59% larger than it was just a decade earlier. Thousands of houses are also being built in the other two towns, Faringdon and Wallingford, and in the 64 villages I represent. My hon. Friend and I decided we would be better combining forces and working with other colleagues, as the issues we face are similar.

People know what the growth figures mean: it is harder and harder to get a GP appointment. It is a separate issue to the post-covid debate on face-to-face, telephone appointments or an e-consultation. This issue is much longer running. It is also distinct from the 6,000 GPs and 26,000 other primary care staff that the Government have committed to recruiting, which I warmly welcome.

It should go without saying—although I will say it anyway—that our GPs and primary care staff work incredibly hard. They want a solution to the problem as much as anybody else, because they are working flat out and are presented with more and more patients. I have a surgery in Wallingford that actually closed its books recently because it simply cannot take any more patients.

Depending on what measure we look at, different parts of my constituency look the worst, but Didcot ranks lowest on the measure of permanent qualified GPs. Didcot is a good example, because we have had a development there called Great Western Park, which is 3,500 houses. On the basis that 2.4 people live in every house, 8,400 people have been added to the constituency, and they have now been waiting seven years for the GP surgery that was promised with the development. There is still no sign of it, but what they do know is coming is Valley Park right next to them—4,200 more houses, and a further 9,600 people. That is 18,000 people just in those two developments, but there is no prospect at the moment of additional GP surgeries.

Who is accountable? Part of the problem is that it is very unclear. Many people think it must be the Government, and of course it is partly down to the Government and the rules for infrastructure not keeping up with house building. As hon. Members have said, there is a difference between what the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Treasury want. Of course that is true, but the provision of GP surgeries is also down to councils and what they do with the section 106 money and community infrastructure levy that they are given. It is also down to the developers and the promises they make, the CCGs and how they plan for things, and the national planning bodies such as NHS England and Health Education England. Part of the problem is that there is no directly responsible body that can ensure that people get the services they need.

There is no shortage of people wanting to be medical students. I used to work in social mobility, and studying medicine is one of the most popular things that young people want to do. The issue is partly the diversity of the people who get into it: only 6% of doctors are from a working-class background, and someone is 24 times more likely to be a doctor if a parent is a doctor. I cannot help but feel that we are missing out on a talent pool of people who want to be doctors, yet we do not have enough GPs.

A number of Members have made important points about the things we need to do. Of course, it is not just about GPs. Lots of things I campaign on are about infrastructure—reopening Grove station, improving the A420 and A34, having more school places and so on—but there are three things that I would draw attention to. First, we need the infrastructure before the houses go in. In this case, that means knowing precisely who will run the GP surgery and having them signed up with the contract to do so before we start. We recognise that most GP surgeries are private businesses. It should not be as difficult as it is to get somebody committed and to know what we will do with the money.

The second point is that I am not persuaded that we should not have a limit on the number of patients that a GP or practice should have. It would be extraordinary in other fields if we did not have a limit on the number of people that we thought was suitable. I totally accept that areas are very different, but surely we can have an upper limit that triggers additional services once it has been reached or exceeded, as it clearly has been in my constituency.

The third point is about the talent pool. We have shortages of all sorts of things in this country, but a lot of people want to study medicine and we are not using them. We could be much better at recruiting people.

We will not solve this problem today, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, but if we want people to not feel that houses are a curse on their local area, they need to know that their quality of life will not decline. That means putting in the right infrastructure, particularly GP surgeries.