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Independents' Day

Burnham: Scrapping of 48-hour target has led to longer waits for GP appointments

The Coalition Government’s decision to get rid of the 48-hour target for GP appointments is one of the leading causes behind why GP waiting times are now longer, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has claimed.

Speaking today at a House of Commons debate over current pressures on the NHS, Mr Burnham also said Government claims that there are now more GPs than there were in 2010 are ‘simply not true’.

He said the two issues in combination is what has led to one in four patients having to wait a week or more for an appointment.

Mr Burnham told the house: ‘The last GP workforce census conducted under the last Government was in September 2009 and that found that there were 35,970 GPs working in England. The latest census from which figures are available is September 2013 and that found there were 35,561 GPs working in England.’

He added: ‘But… it is not just the fact that the GP headcount has gone down. One of the first acts of this Government was to scrap the guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours and incentives to open GP surgeries during evenings and at weekends. That, combined with cuts to GP budget, means it has got harder and harder to get a GP appointment in recent years. All of our constituents, all of us here, our constituents say “I’m ringing the surgery at 8am or 9am every morning and I am being told that nothing is available for days”.

‘In 2010 the vast majority of people said they were able to get an appointment within 48 hours, 80% of people said they could do that. Now according to the GP patient survey one in four people say they must wait a week or more to see a GP.’

The Labour Party has promised that patients will again be guaranteed a GP appointment within 48 hours if they win the general election in May, however without specifying how this will be achieved.

But, responding to the claims, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government is working to improve GP access via its flagship policy to expand opening in evenings and weekends.

He said: ‘One of the reasons for the pressure [on the NHS] is that people increasingly to exect to be able to get medical care 24/7, just as they are able to bank, shop and book their holidays 24/7. The NHS cannot be King Canute and try to stop this.

‘I am not blaming any patients for this, I am just saying it is a fact that this is how patient expectations are changing and that is why we need to give them better alternatives to turning up at A&E, and that is why over the last two years we have expanded weekend and evening GP appointments to over five million people.’

The debate also saw Mr Burnham criticise the current track record of the NHS 111 helpline, which has been accused of increasing the number of patients being directed A&E.

But Mr Hunt responded: ‘We’ve also rolled out the 111 service, now handling three times more calls every year than its predecessor NHS Direct. He [Mr Burnham] criticised NHS 111, so let us look at the facts. Out of those who called 111, 30% said they would have gone to A&E but decided not to as a result. That is two million journeys to A&E avoided and indeed around 600,000 ambulance call outs avoided because of 111.’

Readers' comments (32)

  • Increased demand and fewer GP's has led to longer waits . It's called supply and demand. Simple economics but obviously too complex for some. Perhaps they just need someone to blame and we are convenient scapegoats .

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  • How can a 48 hr appointment be guaranteed ? Wishful thinking rather than any coherent strategy .

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  • i thought the recent A+E 'crisis' was almost entirely due to 111 telling people to go to A+E?

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  • Vinci Ho

    Chinese saying:
    'One who retreats fifty paces mocks one who retreats a hundred -- the pot calls the kettle black.'

    There is simply not enough GPs. So ask why and how are you idiots treating them in such a way that they all want to leave?

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  • Please may we have some evidence-based politics?

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  • One of my patients died waiting for an appointment in hospital. He was given a repeat appointment for 6 months after a Consultant could not make it.
    Today another with same cardiology urgent ref - having been declined a rapid access appointment a month ago as did not fulfil all criteria- was told he would have to wait 13 weeks. I was put through to a Service manager who was not there at 4 pm to take the call.
    How many patients need to die before Medway hospital deals with its problems.?

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  • Hunt - people only expect what Government and media lead them to believe is theirs of right. Time to fess up and admit 24 hour routine care is not an option with so few GPs and not enough money for the basics. Be bold: change expectations instead of wrecking what is left of good primary care for political capital

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  • Burnham - your theory would only stand if you believe GPs are under-performing and making people wait for the sake of it. Haven't the results of the 4 hour A&E target taught you anything? Please, talk to some real GPs. Find out what is going on and don't make promises someone else will be expected to keep on your behalf. We should see those who need to be seen within 48 hours but we cannot see everyone and nor should we - this would only be to the detriment of those who need our time urgently.

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  • The longer we live the longer we realise everything goes round in circles, and as soon as the 48hr target is implemented (again) patients will start to see the disadvantages too, that ANY GP will have to do, so continuity will suffer to meet a non-evidence based target , and then there will be a complete hoo-ha about that, and the next lot of prats, sorry politicians will then do away with the 48hr target , and round it goes and round it goes..... Completely and utterly REMOVE politicians from having anything to do with the NHS, everyone of you know this is the answer , and even the public blame them, it needs to happen.

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  • OK then back to the days of 5 minute appointments and lets see where that gets us. God help us in May.

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