Patients ‘deserve better than a two-week wait’ for GP appointments, and a Labour Government would have ‘higher standards’, the shadow health secretary has said.
Wes Streeting pledged a Labour Government would ‘make the NHS fit for the future’ and fix the problem of people being ‘unable to see their GP’.
It would also be up to patients whether GP appointments were face to face or remote and whether they see the same GP for every appointment, and patients would be able to self-refer to more secondary care services, he said in a speech to the Labour party conference today.
He would champion ‘higher standards for patients’ and give them ‘a voice as well as choice’ as a Labour Government health secretary.
Mr Streeting told the conference: ‘Patients deserve better than a two-week wait to see a GP. I have higher standards for patients.
‘When we were in Government, Labour guaranteed appointments within two days.’
He added that a new Labour Government ‘will give all patients the ability to book online, the opportunity to self-refer to specialist services where appropriate and a wider range of choice so that we can choose whether we want to see someone face-to-face, on the phone or via a video link’.
He said: ‘The days of waiting on the phone at 8am to book an appointment with your GP will be over and we will bring back the family doctor.’
The Labour party said this includes giving patients the ‘choice’ of ‘seeing the same doctor each appointment for those who want to’.
It comes as health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey’s new plan for patient access last week 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.
Responding to Dr Coffey’s announcement, Mr Streeting questioned ‘who will deliver these appointments she’s promising’ and where these GP appointments will take place.
Meanwhile, NHS England this 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.
The BMA said Mr Streeting’s GP appointment promises are ‘divisive’ and ‘disappointing’.
BMA England GP Committee chair Dr Farah Jameel said: ‘We simply don’t have enough doctors and while it’s good to see Labour recognising the workforce challenges, it’s disappointing to see politicians once again making divisive headline-grabbing promises that are not grounded in reality, and which suggest the existing workforce are somehow not trying hard enough.’
She urged politicians and policymakers to instead ‘discuss meaningful and workable solutions with the profession’.
She added: ‘They must stop playing around with patients’ lives and end divisive rhetoric that heaps more expectations on to doctors already working at their limits – and who will be left shouldering the blame when they are ultimately unable to achieve undeliverable promises.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘GP access is important but it is only a starting point to ensuring our patients receive the safe, personalised and appropriate care they need.
‘What we really need to address are the huge workload and workforce pressures that are the real reason why patients are facing such long waits to see a GP.’
The shadow health secretary also suggested that GP access is causing pressures in A&E – a claim that has been disputed.
He said: ‘We don’t focus nearly enough on prevention, early intervention and care in the community.
‘Because people can’t see a GP they end up in A&E, which is worse for them and more expensive for the taxpayer.’
He added: ‘The next Labour Government will agree a 10-year plan with the NHS to shift the focus of healthcare out of the hospital and into the community.
‘Our plan to recruit more doctors will deliver better access to GPs and ease pressure on A&Es.
This will be at the heart of Labour’s 10-year plan for change and modernisation.’
Mr Streeting has also pledged to double the number of medical school places if Labour were to come into power.