Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has hailed an extra 6,000 GP appointments per day as a success for the Conservative Party, despite GPs warning about the dangers of rising appointment rates.
Speaking at a House of Commons debate on health yesterday, Mr Hunt listed the improvements to the NHS since the previous Labour Government, including members of the public accessing more GP consultations. He also hailed 3,000 more ‘vulnerable people’ being treated in A&E and 10,000 more diagnostic tests as successes for the party.
The political exchange came despite GP leaders warning about the dangers of rising appointment rates to both patient safety and the stresses placed on GPs, with the RCGP highlighting that many GPs are now working 11 hour days with 60 patient appointments in one day.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham responded to Mr Hunt by quoting Pulse’s survey on appointment waiting times, which showed that underfunding of general practice has led to GPs predicting two-week waits will become the norm by next April.
Mr Burnham said: ‘Another way in which the NHS has got worse, and every patient knows this to be true, is that it is becoming harder and harder to get a GP appointment. It is a common experience for people to ring their surgery early in the morning only to be told that there is nothing available for days. A survey has found that almost half of GPs predict that the average waiting time will exceed two weeks by next year.’
He said the ‘clearest measure’ of growing problems in the NHS was continued missed targets in A&E departments, adding: ‘Why is that happening? The fact is that cuts have been made to general practice, social care and mental health, which are pushing more and more people towards the acute hospital and placing it under intolerable pressure.’
The BMA launched a campaign to highlight ‘unprecedented’ workload pressures on GPs last month, and last week Pulse reported that a GP who was forced to field 84 patient appointments in one day last year as the 2013/14 GP contract imposition created an untenable workload.
Note: This article was amended at 17.07 on 10 June to reflect that there were 6,000 more GP appointments per day as opposed to per year, as previously stated.