A House of Commons debate on the Government’s plans for increasing seven-day access in the NHS has heard GPs need to be ‘more flexible’.
Speaking at the debate, Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam Paul Scully said the seven-day imperative was necessary both for convenience and to reduce pressure on A&E departments.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt did not join the debate, which was prompted by a petition on Parliament.uk calling for him to be subject to a vote of no confidence by MPs.
Opening the debate, House of Commons petitions committee chair Helen Jones, Labour MP for Warrington North, said the topic for debate was amended to focus on ‘contracts and conditions’ in the NHS because the committee does not have the power to call for a vote of no confidence.
Bringing up the 2004 renegotiation of the GP contract, Mr Scully said the then-Government’s ‘cav[ed] in to unions’.
This ‘effectively restricted GP services to a five-day service, which provided extra pressure on A&E’, he added.
He said this ‘helped to break the link between the patient and the person who was responsible for their care’ – with elderly people hit hardest as a result.
He said: ‘Obviously GP services can’t just be boiled down to some sort of retail operation, like late-night shopping or Sunday opening or something like that, but nonetheless we do need flexibility’.
Also speaking at the debate, House of Commons health committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston, Tory MP and a former GP, said she hoped ‘the secretary of state will look very carefully at is what [seven-day access] is for’, because financial resources and the GP workforce are not sufficient to prioritise weekend appointments for convenience alone.
She said: ‘I think we all understand that sometimes in our busy lives it is diffucult to take time off work but it might not be the priority when resources are tight, because… I know if we were to try and provide an 8am-8pm service for Saturday and Sundays, for routine GP appontments, the cost of that would be enormous.’
Meanwhile, Ms Jones said that this Government has treated NHS staff ‘badly’, GP services are ‘struggling to cope’ and, although she was talking specifically about consultants at the time, that doctors ‘deserve a decent rate of pay for their skills and their training, and for their responsibility’.
She said: ‘Fortunately for him [Jeremy Hunt], or unfortunately depending on which way you want to look at it, the committee does not have the power to initiate a vote of no confidence and so we decided that we should debate the underlying issue in the petition, which was the contracts and conditions of the NHS staff.’