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Ed Miliband: 'Ending the 48-hour pledge was a really bad mistake'

Labour’s leader speaks to Pulse news editor Jaimie Kaffash about his plans for GPs

It was like a scene from The Thick of It. Dozens of London politicos milling around a closed hospital cafe, wondering how they ended up in a small town in the West Midlands.

Ed Miliband 330

Labour’s 10-year plan for the NHS will be unveiled the next day in London, but in true Malcolm Tucker-style, Pulse is ensconced at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton with only a three-page summary of the document, handed out 15 minutes before the briefing starts.

But Labour’s health spokesperson Andy Burnham and the big draw of the day, leader Ed Miliband, greet us as if we were long-lost friends.

They are perched uncomfortably next to each other on a sofa, but Mr Miliband is clearly in charge – prompting his shadow minister to cover all aspects of their 10-year NHS plan released 100 days before the general election.

‘As Pulse showed, you’re seeing one in five patients waiting longer than two weeks’

‘I think what people most want from the health service is the sense of a plan, a sense of the vision of the future,’ he says. ‘And I think as well as all the other failings of this Government, they’ve provided no vision of the future, what the NHS looks like.’

It is not surprising that he is keen to speak with us, after all the NHS is a key plank of Labour’s election strategy and he needs GPs onside to deliver one of his major pledges  - a guarantee of a GP appointment within 48 hours.

‘I understand the anxiety there is about any changes that happen but I think it’s been pretty much shown by experience that the Government’s decision to get rid of the 48-hour standard was a really bad mistake,’ says Mr Miliband.

But is he not worried that it will bring back the daily lockdown in the morning as patients scramble for appointments? Mr Miliband references a Pulse survey that showed long waiting times for GP appointments published last year and the 8,000 more GPs he plans to fund if he is in power from May.

He says: ‘The problem is it meant there’s no proper backstop for when people get seen and as a result, as Pulse showed, you’re seeing one in five patients waiting longer than two weeks. You just need to look at the attendances at A&E – the rise in attendances – to see the problem.’

‘We said two things about this – one was to recruit more GPs and it’s important to make sure that’s deliverable and secondly get rid of some of the frankly ridiculous bureaucracy and competition regulation which is costing money, and saving that money applying it back into GP services.’

As well as removing competition rules, Labour also plans more radical change to the NHS to promote much greater integration. The 10-year plan includes plans to create a ‘year-of-care’ tariff for those with complex needs, such as frail older people, which will cover all of a person’s care costs over a year.

Mr Burnham explains that this will mean a ‘home to hospital’ service  with hospitals – and perhaps GP practices - being given the opportunity to extend into primary care, employ GPs and provide more social support.

He explains: ‘An organisation like [the George Eliot Hospital] wants to grow into the community, wants to become an integrated care organisation so that’s the future that we’ve got to offer and that’s what the plan will allow.’

But will GPs want to work for large ICOs as salaried employees? Mr Burnham explains: ‘It’s about saying that if younger GPs  in the early part of their career want to work for an integrated care organisation then that is something that I think we would encourage.

‘I’ve met a group of GP trainees in Manchester recently who said: “We don’t want to become partners in a practice straight away, we want to work differently. We’d like a more salaried position to begin with and maybe go into partnership later on in our career”.

‘We understand that general practice is under incredible pressure at the moment. We know morale is very very low. We will work at this with the profession. But this is about, a truly preventative NHS needs the best possible primary care and the commitment we’re making is part of that.’

And the morale of people working in the NHS is clearly important to Mr Miliband. He announces that there will be a new ‘staff champion’ in the NHS that will feed back on how the workforce is feeling – although it is unclear if this person will represent GPs.

‘The NHS is facing a perilous moment’

He adds: ‘I met some folk who work here earlier on just on the corridor they just happened to be there – they basically maintain the machines in the hospital and they do repair work and so on and they were incredibly proud to be working in the NHS and I said to them: ‘What do you think people are feeling about the NHS at the moment?’ and two of them said together: “Fearful.”

‘I think the reason for that is because people feel like the NHS is facing a perilous moment and there needs to be a sense of plan for its future and I think that’s what we’re providing tomorrow.’

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Readers' comments (23)

  • By making all GPs salaried presumably on 60-80 k a year the workforce crisis will explode,they do not understand that Doctors like other professions are happy to be self employed they will also have to buy out the whole of the primary care estate which will cost billions,they can't use my building and pay me a pittance

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  • No, but they could remove your contract from you and leave you with an expensive building, massive mortgage and no income.
    They want larger, cheaper buildings where more can be done more cheaply. They could not care less about us.

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  • Millibrain

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  • 1 in 5 cannot, but under the last Labour Government (incidentally with Burnham as the Health Sec) 80% could!!!!

    Aren't statistics marvelous??

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  • was he leaning against some glass when that picture was taken or is the nose really that bad?

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  • this reeks of being screwed over before they even get elected into office!!

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  • What a plonker, its as if he hasn't listened to what is driving the crisis and wants to make it worse. How could anyone think to vote Labour they'd be worse than the idiot Tory boys.

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  • Politicians will say anything they think will impress the common Man to vote for them.because they in their clueless glasshouses just want to be in politics ,in power and give no toss about the general populace..
    They can blame GPS all they want ,unfortunately when they finally dismantle the nhs it's the common man that will suffer. I am tired of the constant go bashing, the ever moving goalposts, the increasing stress of the job, the unappreciation of the populace about how hard we work, the whole govt propaganda about GP pay Eric etc. Actualy bring on making GPS salaried -- I will actually have more time for my family and finally have a social life as I can clock into and out of work on time , no weekends sitting in the surgery trying to complete admin work

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  • 8000 more GPs? When we can't fill the training posts we already have and the demographic time bomb of GP retirement? General practice is imploding NOW. As one of the health services eternal optimists even I have to admit that the complete hash of developing primary care made by successive governments over the past 10 years means we are witnessing the terminal decline of General Practice. And the lame brain "solution" of having community services taken over by the acute sector will be a disaster.

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  • Everything what politicians say can be done if supported by adequate funding, 48 hrs appointments cannot be met with existing resources.
    Please do not befool the public for electioneering

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