New health secretary Therese Coffey does not yet have a plan for how to boost GP appointment access, her first interview has indicated.
New Prime Minister Liz Truss yesterday listed improving access to GP appointments as one of her three key priorities.
But, interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, her new health secretary and deputy Prime Minister seemed to have yet to research the topic.
Ms Coffey was asked if she has ‘a sense of what the real obstacle’ to GP access is.
‘Is it attitude, culture, bureaucracy, money, what do you think it is?,’ asked presenter Nick Robinson.
The health secretary replied: ‘Well, every GP around the country is effectively part of an independent practice that agrees to do NHS services.
‘And that’s why we’ll be trying to work through exactly how we can make sure that where we have some practices that are absolutely fantastic, people being able to get through, being able to book appointments, and just to try and work through the detail of how we can make changes there or help those practices, improve how they work with their patients.’
She added: ‘I’m very conscious the relationship between a doctor and a nurse and their patient is absolutely paramount. But we must do whatever we can to support that process. Because ultimately, I’m here to stand up for patients.’
When asked if standing up for patients meant more face-to-face GP appointments, Ms Coffey said: ‘I think we just need to work through that level of detail and recognise that ultimately, the relationship is between the doctor and the patient.’
However, she did confirm that patients would not be charged for GP appointments, with Mr Robinson referring to an old think-tank report that Ms Truss had once worked on.
‘I will not be charging people to go and see their GPs,’ she said.
In an apparent gaffe, Ms Coffey also named chiropractors as a key part of NHS primary care during the interview.
She said: ‘The majority of healthcare is actually delivered through primary care, through our doctors, through our dentists, through chiropractors, all those other supports that are there, not just through hospitals.’
However, chiropractic is considered a type of ‘complementary and alternative medicine, which means it’s not a conventional medical treatment’, and most people who have chiropractic treatment pay for it privately, according to the NHS.
‘Chiropractic is not widely available on the NHS,’ and ‘a GP is more likely to refer you to a physiotherapist,’ says the NHS website.
Her comments come as the BMA has asked the new Prime Minister to please work ‘with’ doctors rather than against them to ‘turn things around’ for the NHS.
And they come as Ms Truss again stressed that improving GP access will be an ‘immediate’ priority for the new health secretary.
Speaking in her first Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons today, Ms Truss said: ‘Our new health secretary, who is also the deputy prime minister, will be taking immediate action to make sure people are able to get appointments with their GP and proper NHS services’.
However, she made the comments in response to a question referencing the elective backlog, with Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow Rushanara Ali saying ‘the NHS is on its knees with 6.6 million people waiting for treatment’.