Election pledges on GP opening hours - do they add up?
Pulse analyses the general election pledges from the main parties on GP access
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised that patients will be able to see a GP seven days a week - from 8 ‘til 8 – by the end of the next Parliament if the Conservatives are returned to power at the next election.
Speaking at the party’s annual conference in September last year, Mr Cameron said that it would cost £400m in ‘set up costs’ over the next five years to enable everyone to access a GP for 12 hours a day, every day.
The PM first revealed a £50m ‘Challenge Fund’ for 1,000 GP practices to trial seven-day opening at the previous party conference in 2013, adding that a second wave of practices would be invited to bid for a £100m fund this year to also open seven-days a week – dependent on the success of wave one.
But, despite a lack of data from the previous pilots, a second wave of Mr Cameron’s seven-day access drive was subsequently rolled out to a further 1,400 practices across the country in March – all given a share of an additional £100m to extend access to GP practices at evenings and weekends.
The Tories have also guaranteed that patients over 75 will be able to have a same-day appointment with a GP by introducing 5,000 new GPs by 2020, if the party wins the election.
Labour party leader Ed Miliband has said that if his party wins the next election, he will reintroduce a right for patients to see a GP within 48 hours.
He also pledged to give patients the right to a same-day GP appointment ‘for those who need it’ and to book an appointment more than 48 hours ahead ‘with the GP of their choice’.
The Labour leader has claimed that the move would require an investment of an extra £100m a year in GP practices to pay for an additional three million GP appointments every year.
The Liberal Democrats have also promised to ensure easier access to GPs by expanding evening and weekend opening, should they come to power after the election. The party has also vowed to implement a greater use of federations of GP practices to ensure better access to primary care services for patients.
As part of this pledge, the Liberal Democrats added that it wants to further roll out the Government’s flagship policy of allowing patients to register with any GP at any practice.
In addition, they have promised to also improve GP access by increasing the number of consultations held over Skype rather than in person or over the phone, through a £250m ‘transformation fund’ raised from sales of ‘redundant’ NHS assets.
The UK Independence Party has claimed that it will ensure that GP practices will stay open for ‘at least one night a week, and one weekend a month.’
The move – which will be funded as part of the party’s £3bn funding injection into the NHS – will be to combat the current climate where patients are ‘battling to get an appointment.’
In the party’s manifesto for the health service, UKIP claimed it would be able to extend access to GPs by providing 8,000 more GPs, scrapping the CQC and freeing the profession from the ‘unnecessary data collection, target chasing, revalidation and appraisal work’.
Plaid Cymru has pledged that it will provide ‘easier than ever’ access to GP appointments, and will offer longer GP opening hours through a renegotiation of the GP contract.
The party said it would ‘train and recruit a further 1,000 doctors to the NHS in Wales, offer structured financial incentives to encourage doctors to difficult-to-recruit areas and invest in telemedicine to help people get access to specialist care in their local GP surgery’.
The recent announcement warned that the country is ‘facing a GP time bomb, with almost 50% of GPs in some areas approaching retirement age’ and quoted figures that showed GP numbers in Wales have reduced by 20% over the past year.
The Greens will provide community health centres that offer a range of services, including out-of-hours care, but they will not replace GPs.
Pulse reality check
Some big promises here, but very little that adds up. Seven-day GP access across England would cost a huge amount to put in place nationally and the Conservatives’ funding for their pilots is not recurrent. This leaves them ripe for being cut after the election, particularly because NHS England has admitted they have not been going long enough to collect any concrete evidence of benefit.
Mr Miliband recently told Pulse that the Government’s decision to get rid of the 48-hour standard was a ‘really bad mistake’, but Labour’s funding works out to be a measly £240 per practice per week - barely enough for a single locum GP session - hardly enough to reinstate this widely maligned target.
The UKIP promise relies on projected savings from leaving the EU (a big ask) and without clear funding figures it is hard to judge the Lib Dem policy in any depth.