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48-hour appointment target will need more GPs, Labour admits



More GPs are needed if Labour’s plans to ensure a 48-hour appointment target to see a GP can be successfully achieved, the party has admitted.

Writing exclusively for Pulse, shadow health minister Jamie Reed said his party promised to make recruitment ‘a priority’ should it win next year’s general election as this was key to ensuring better access for patients.

The MP for Copeland said better access could be achieved by better promotion of general practice as a career choice to medical students, supporting GP returners back to work and, potentially, funding specific initiatives to encourage recruitment in under-doctored areas.

Under Labour’s plans, patients would also gain a right to be seen by a GP on the same day if they need to be seen quickly and be able to book appointments more than 48 hours ahead ‘with the GP of their choice’. The professional bodies have said they are against the return of the standard, with the GPC saying such targets would lead to ‘counterproductive, perverse behaviour’.

He said: ‘We know we can’t improve access without more GPs, especially in areas of the country with shortages. The last Labour Government increased GPs to record levels, but numbers have slipped back since 2009/10. Worryingly, the Government is far off meeting its stated goal of 3,250 training places a year.’

‘That’s why GP recruitment will be a priority for Labour.’

Last week, Labour pledged an extra £100m for general practice to fund its bid to improve patient access and, during an interview with Pulse, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said this would either be part of the contract or the QOF. However, the party has now confirmed to Pulse that it will launch a consultation with the profession on how to solve this and the other issues facing the profession later on in the year.

Mr Reed said: ‘It will be for surgeries themselves to determine how to use these extra resources and over the next year we will be talking with the profession about the best way to make this extra investment, whether through the contract or as an enhanced service.’

He added: ‘There are also many other challenges facing general practice, including its pivotal role in leading care coordination and managing complex patients, the shift from small organisations to federations or networks, the increasing use of e-health and remote care, the need to invest in improving premises, and the need to improve retention – including through better training and development opportunities for doctors, nurses and other practice staff.’

‘Over the next year, Labour wants to work with the profession to help shape a vision for meeting these challenges, one that places primary care right at the heart of the future NHS.’

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said about the policy: “While we welcome [Labour leader Ed] Miliband’s announcement it must not be another “sticking plaster” solution but part of a broader, long-term, shift in investment. We particularly welcome Mr Milliband’s pledge to scrap the marketization of the NHS, something our members, across the country, have long said is unworkable and undermining their ability to provide joined-up patient care.’