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Shadow health secretary signals support for routine Saturday GP opening

Exclusive The shadow health secretary has said ‘there is demand’ for Saturday GP opening, but criticised Government plans for practices to open on Sunday, in her first major interview on primary care since taking the role.

Heidi Alexander, who has been in her new appointment for five months, said that she supported flexibility when it came to GP appointments but pointed out that demand probably did not exist for a seven-day-a-week service.

In a wide-ranging interview, she also told Pulse that primary care has been ’under staffed, under resourced, under prioritised’, and that she would increase the proportion of NHS spend going in to primary care.

 

Heidi Alexander 3x2

Heidi Alexander 3x2

Read the full interview here

Ms Alexander was given the role of shadow health secretary in September 2015, having had a central part in the fight against the closure of Lewisham Hospital by health secretary Jeremy Hunt

So far, much of her time in the role has been focused on secondary care, most notably the junior doctor contract row, and hospital rationing.

But in her first major interview on primary care, Ms Alexander said that she was dubious about the Government’s plans for GP practices to open on Sundays for routine access - although she did support Saturday opening. 

She said: ‘Undoubtedly there is demand amongst the public to be able to see their GPs on the evenings during weekdays and probably on a Saturday as well.

‘I’m not totally convinced that people want to be seeing GPs at teatime on a Sunday. I do think we need to improve access and that is a priority but whether there is that demand for Sunday evening appointments I’m not so sure.’

Referencing Pulse’s investigations on the issue, she added: ’I think some of the pilots have actually been abandoned because the demand wasn’t there.’

Ms Alexander also said she believed in the principle of patients being able to get a GP appointment within 48 hours.

‘I think the aspiration of that target is completely right because the frustration that people experience when trying to get a GP’s appointment is considerable,’ she said.

‘We’re reviewing all of our policies though over the next few years. The next general election is four and a half years away but certainly improving access to GPs is something that is really important to people out there and it’s really important to me and the Labour Party as well.’

Ms Alexander said she would raise the issues of general practice at a time when hospitals take the lion’s share of attention and funding.

‘I certainly will be (making general practice a priority). I think that we don’t prioritise primary care properly. In all the debates we have about supporting and improving the NHS we tend to focus on what’s happening in hospitals, on the A&E crisis and understaffed wards.

’While I can’t predict exactly what the financial framework is going to be come 2020 were there to be a Labour government it’s certainly an aspiration that I would have to increase the proportion of NHS spend that goes into primary care.’

She added that the Government needed to understand the ‘degree of disillusionment that exists among the GP community’ following the recent vote by LMCs to consider mass resignation.

‘I think there’s huge frustration and I can understand why they might feel that some kind of direct action is necessary,’ said Ms Alexander.

‘I think this really does underline the extent of concern that exists amongst GPs about the way that primary care hasn’t been properly valued and properly prioritised by this Government.’

Contract imposition ‘gambles with patient safety’

Junior Doctor Strike 2016

Junior Doctor Strike 2016

Until her interview with Pulse, Heidi Alexander’s main focus has been the ongoing dispute over the junior doctors’ contract row.

She  made an impassioned attack on health secretary Jeremy Hunt after he imposed a contract on junior doctors.

She accused him of taking the ’biggest gamble on patient safety [the House of Commons] has ever seen.

In the debate following the announcement of the imposition, Ms Alexander said: ’The health secretary needs to stop behaving like a recruiting agent for Australian hospitals, and start acting like the secretary of state for our NHS.’

She had earlier accused Mr Hunt’s handling of negotiations of being a ’complete and utter shambles’, with junior doctors ‘left feeling demoralised and offended by comments made by ministers which suggest they don’t already work seven days a week’.

Readers' comments (36)

  • Dear Madam – please lead by example

    "Parliament to sit on Saturdays which should be a "normal working day" for MPs."
    If u r a GP please sign-----
    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/120753

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  • Just another politician making stupid promises that she thinks her electorate want to hear in the hope that she will get re-elected. As anyone with any brains will tell you a politicians number one job is to get elected. After getting elected their next priority is to get re-elected. They are a soulless bunch whose sole aim to gain power and retain power purely for their own self-gratification and in their own self-interest. The all pay lip service to "their electorate" and "the greater good". In reality they don’t give a damn about anyone or anything bar themselves The only point in history that this was not true was during the Victorian era when well-meaning self-made men entered politics after they had created their wealth with the true ambition of making the state better for everyone. The current generation enter politics solely (or soullessly) with the intention of making things better for themselves and their families and having no regard whatsoever for the welfare of the people or the state – as the Tories like to state – “Back to basics politics”. Obviously Labour share the love for “Back to basics politics”.

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  • This comment has been moderated

  • Just another politician making stupid promises that she thinks her electorate want to hear in the hope that she will get re-elected. As anyone with any brains will tell you a politicians number one job is to get elected. After getting elected their next priority is to get re-elected. They are a soulless bunch whose sole aim to gain power and retain power purely for their own self-gratification and in their own self-interest. The all pay lip service to "their electorate" and "the greater good". In reality they don’t give a damn about anyone or anything bar themselves. The only point in history that this was not true was during the Victorian era when well-meaning self-made men entered politics after they had created their wealth with the true ambition of making the state better for everyone. The current generation enter politics solely (or soullessly) with the intention of making things better for themselves and their families and having no regard whatsoever for the welfare of the people or the state – as the Tories like to state – “Back to basics politics”. Obviously Labour share the love for “Back to basics politics”.

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  • This comment has been moderated

  • Why not follow Scotland's example.
    Apparently we are going to have a new Scottish GP contract. We become consultants in primary care. No staff. No practices.
    Ofcourse the market rate will have to be paid for us GPs, as consultants in primary care.
    Saturday opening will be no problem. Now lets think £1,500 per session for Saturdays?

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  • There is "demand" for many things; it doesn't mean they should happen, especially when the consequences for the less demanding/vociferous is deleterious. I just wonder how much demand for evening and weekend access to GPs there would be if those demanding it had to pay for it.

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  • When we opened in Saturday for extended hours LES. On average we saw 3 patients in three hours and once a patient came in and said the doctor is free can he see my dog who needs antibiotic.
    We decided to check with MPS first to see if I have the indemnity to see a dog!!!

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  • Vinci Ho

    Always easier to say things more 'appealing' while you are in the political wilderness and lose all common senses while being back in the establishment . Please read the latest OECD criticisms on the health services on all four countries in UK:
    OECD Reviews of Health Care Quality: United Kingdom 2016
    In series:OECD Reviews of Health Care Qualityview more titles
    Published on February 12
    Health systems in the United Kingdom have, for many years, made the quality of care a highly visible priority, internationally pioneering many tools and policies to assure and improve the quality of care. A key challenge, however, is to understand why, despite being a global leader in quality monitoring and improvement, the United Kingdom does not consistently demonstrate strong performance on international benchmarks of quality. This report reviews the quality of health care in the England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, seeking to highlight best practices, and provides a series of targeted assessments and recommendations for further quality gains in health care. To secure continued quality gains, the four health systems will need to balance top-down approaches to quality management and bottom-up approaches to quality improvement; publish more quality and outcomes data disaggregated by country; and, establish a forum where the key officials and clinical leaders from the four health systems responsible for quality of care can meet on a regular basis to learn from each other’s innovations.

    COUNTRY KEY FINDINGS - LESSONS LEARNT
    The UK as a whole likely puts more energy into health care quality improvement initiatives than any other country in the world, and as a result has many innovative policies of international repute. Yet despite this, the quality of health care in the UK is no better than average.
    In England, the balance between central governance and accountability, and local innovation, needs revisiting. Governance has shifted too far towards top-down regulation, which doesn’t leave enough space for local innovation, and risks disempowerment and distrust amongst those providing care. Additionally, there has been a proliferation of national agencies, reviews and policies that address quality, leading to a somewhat congested and fragmented field of actors.
    Scotland needs to look for ways to support bottom-up approaches with stronger national frameworks, for instance by establishing a national adverse events reporting system. Scotland should also reconsider whether the mixing of scrutiny and quality improvement activity within Healthcare Improvement Scotland represents a conflict of interest. The mix of these roles means that the system’s inspector risks “marking its own homework”.
    In Wales, while local autonomy and innovation is encouraged, local Health Boards (established in 2009) do not appear to have sufficient institutional and technical capacity to drive meaningful innovation and quality gains. A stronger central guiding hand is now needed to play a more prescriptive role.
    In Northern Ireland, commissioning and performance management of health and social care have been integrated for over 40 years, and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has strategic oversight over both health and social care. Northern Ireland could now do more to better exploit this collaborative structure to deliver more integrated and person-centred care.

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  • Happy to open saturday morning.....which day of the week do we close to be able to do this? I choose Monday, the busiest day of the week.

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  • I like the juxtaposition of headlines: "Shadow health secretary signals support for routine Saturday GP opening" above "One in five London practices could close, warn LMCs"

    Square that circle if you can, Mrs Secretary.

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  • £5/appointment and they become plastic bags.

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