The health secretary has indicated that she wants to go further than her two-week wait target for GP appointments.
And she said that it is ‘perfectly reasonable’ for patients to expect to see their GP within a fortnight.
Dr Thérèse Coffey’s new plan for patient access last month set out a range of measures to improve access to GP practices, including two-week GP appointment targets and the new publication of practice-level appointment data.
But speaking at the annual Conservative party conference in Birmingham today, she said that she would ‘like to be more ambitious’.
She said: ‘I think it is perfectly reasonable when people need to see a GP, they should expect to do so within a fortnight.
‘Of course, I would like to be more ambitious, and while I will not be prescriptive on how GPs interact with their patients, I am clear patients must be able to see their doctors promptly.’
She added: ‘To help achieve these priorities, I will publish a lot more information for patients so they can see how their local NHS is performing, including their GP practice, and on access to NHS care and treatment.’
The health secretary added that ‘too many’ patients do not have a good experience of getting a GP appointment.
She said: ‘Let’s be honest – while most patients receiving care in our NHS have a good experience, too many do not.
‘Whether it’s the 8am scramble to see a GP, or the long waits to get tests or treatment, or the struggle to see an NHS dentist at all.’
And Dr Coffey said that she wants to be ‘honest’ about the ‘scale of the challenge ahead of us’, saying the Government must ‘be prepared to hold the NHS to account’.
She also set out that:
- She will make it easier for GPs registered outside England to register to practise in the country
- She wants to improve capacity in the community so that people can be cared for ‘at home’ rather than staying in hospital ‘unnecessarily’
- The Government will spend £173bn on health and social care in England this year
And she claimed that her plan for patients, announced last month, will reduce bureaucracy and ‘improve performance’ in the NHS.
Responding to the speech, BMA council chair Professor Philip Banfield said: ‘Today we saw another speech from the health secretary in which very little was actually said.
‘She said she had “listened to why people say they are leaving the NHS”, yet she has continued to ignore our request to meet with junior doctors as they demand pay restoration, to the point where they are now forced to go out and ballot for industrial action.’
He added that ‘the door is still open for dialogue’ but that that the health secretary has not ‘shown the willingness to use it’ at any point in the last month.
He said: ‘Without more willingness to listen to those at the frontline, this Government has very dim hopes of confronting what could be an extremely painful winter for the NHS and for the country.’
The health secretary and deputy prime minister’s Our plan for patients set an ‘expectation’ that GP practices offer non-urgent appointments to patients within two weeks as well as same-day urgent appointments.
Alongside this, data on how many appointments each GP practice is offering and appointment waiting times will be published starting from November this year.
Dr Coffey has indicated that the only repercussion for practices that do not meet the expectations would be the potential of patients switching GP.
And the BMA has stressed that none of the measures are ‘underpinned by any contractual agreements’.
However, it warned of the damage the ‘divisive’ announcement could do to GPs’ relationship with their patients, saying that practices have been ‘set up to fail’.
Ahead of the publication of the full plan, the BMA and RCGP both reacted with dismay to the announcement of new targets for general practice.
Speaking at his own party conference last week, the shadow health secretary said that patients ‘deserve better than a two-week wait’ for GP appointments and a Labour Government would have ‘higher standards’.
Meanwhile, NHS England last week announced that it has deferred the incentive scheme target for GP networks to offer patients appointments within two weeks, in a bid to relieve practice workload over the winter.