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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 29th March 2022.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 10:09 am, 29th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my county colleague and hon. Friend Andrew Selous on securing the debate. He will know that this is a particular issue for Bedfordshire.

In my own constituency over the course of the last decade, the town of Biggleswade, the village of Stotfold and the newly parished area of Fairfield Park have been dramatically transformed by housing growth. In many instances, that has created very welcome, happy communities and neighbourhoods for people, which have grown and become a natural part of the environment; but we cannot ignore the pace of growth and the impact that it has had on those residents new to the area, and on the existing residents who have accepted the additional growth in their areas.

Two issues make for happy communities. First, is the pace of growth sustainable and are the services there that people come to expect from the Government, in terms of school places and, as we are discussing today, of GPs?

My constituency is growing at a rate of about five times the national average. Between 2015 and 2020, the population of this country grew by about 1.9 million people. If all constituencies grew at the same pace as mine, there would be over 5 million new people in this country. I ask the Minister, when it comes to housing, could we please consider an absolute cap on what local communities are expected to have in any long period of time? If we do not have that pressure against market forces, I fear that we are building some concerns for the future.

I know that Conservative colleagues—replete in their number here today—have a large number of questions about planning reforms. I would just say this to the Minister. The previous Secretary of State focused, I think rightly, on the efficiency of the process of planning: how do we get more houses built? That is important. Will the Minister also focus on how effective the planning is for the communities where those houses are built? If we have that slight nuance in the approach on planning, I think that would be helpful.

Of course, I come today not to bury the Minister, but to praise him; because he knows that his colleague in, I think, June 2021, in response to a debate that I called on housing growth in my constituency, killed the 1 million housing target that was in the Labour peer Lord Adonis’s housing target for the Ox-Cam arc. The Minister also knows that his Department, under the new Secretary of State, has said that it wishes to de-emphasise—to flush away—the Ox-Cam arc, which Lord Adonis, the Labour peer, was using as his Trojan horse to build a million houses in the play spaces of Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. It is welcome that those changes were made, so I want to put on record my thanks to the Minister and ask him to make sure that we follow through to ensure that unreasonable targets are not placed on councils in the Ox-Cam arc area.

The Minister also knows that his colleague said that he would arrange meetings for me with the Department for Education for school places and with the Department of Health and Social Care on GP places. I am grateful to the Department for allowing that meeting to take place with school places; we had a very good meeting with the Department for Education, but I am interested to learn more from the NHS. I am completing a survey of GPs and around June this year will have the opportunity to present a report. Will the Minister follow up on that with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that I get access to the Secretary of State when that report is ready?

I just want to make a couple of points on GPs, if I may. As many colleagues have said, I know that people are frustrated that they cannot get access, but they should know that their GPs are working very hard. I would make this point: abuse is never acceptable when people contact their GP surgery. People should hold back. Don’t go all Will Smith, right?—don’t go all Will Smith when you call your GP surgery. Make sure you take that extra breath when you talk, because the people you are talking to are under considerable pressure.

We need to look at the GP partner model. I know there are many who would like to say that that model is an oddity in the new world. No, it is not. Entrepreneurship and the idea of running your own business has its place in primary care. We need to make sure that we open up and broaden the way in which we give people access to primary care. We have to recognise that GP access is a bottleneck in the system. I fully support infrastructure first, but the answer is not always more people. Often, it is more efficient processes with the existing people, or new avenues for people to access the care.

Will the Minister go back to his colleagues, as he considers GP practice and housing growth, and say, “Please make more progress on giving people the power to understand how they can access primary care”? We are making good progress with the NHS app, but it is an NHS app designed for us that actually looks like it was designed for doctors; it is very hard to make effective consumer decisions using the app. I ask the Minister to broaden the access for people to get into primary care through chemists and other facilities, and to please move forward with diagnostic centres.