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‘Improved GP access’ included in Queen’s Speech

Government plans to increase access to GPs were made a focus of the Queen’s Speech at the state opening of Parliament this morning.

The speech – outlining the Government’s key priorities for the next five years – signalled ministers are sticking to plans to increase patient access to GPs through seven-day working, despite calls from the profession to ‘jettison pipe dreams’ over the policy, and poor uptake of routine weekend GP appointments under pilot schemes.

In her speech, The Queen said: ‘In England, my Government will secure the future of the National Health Service by implementing the National Health Service’s own five-year plan, by increasing the health budget, integrating healthcare and social care, and ensuring the National Health Service works on a seven-day basis.

‘Measures will be introduced to improve access to general practitioners and to mental healthcare.’

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said the NHS ‘already provides many GP and hospital services seven days a week’ and questioned how the Government planned to address the NHS funding gap and shortage of GPs.

Dr Porter said: ‘The real question for the Government is how they plan to deliver more care when the NHS is facing a huge funding gap and there is a chronic shortage of GPs and hospital doctors, especially in emergency medicine, where access to 24-hour care is vital.’

He added: ‘General practice is already struggling to cope with rising demand from an ageing population, carrying out 40m more consultations a year than in 2008 while also facing a recruitment and retention crisis… With existing services struggling to cope, the Government must explain how it will fund and staff more GP and hospital services.’

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker also questioned how increased access could be achieved when GPs were already overloaded.

Dr Baker said: ‘In addition to existing out of hours GP services, many practices are already offering extended opening times but it is difficult to see how we can deliver this more widely with current resources, especially when there is a severe shortage of GPs.’

However she added that the College was ‘pleased’ the Government was committed to delivering Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View, and hoped it would ‘honour its promise of 5,000 additional GPs as a matter of urgency’.

Dr Baker added: ‘We look forward to working with the Government to increase investment for general practice and to boost the GP workforce, so that we can give all our patients the care they need and deserve.’

Meanwhile the GMC said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ the Government had not mentioned reform of regulations for healthcare professionals in the wake of the Francis report.

Chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘We are deeply disappointed that the government has not taken this opportunity to improve patient safety by modernising the regulation of healthcare professionals.’

He added: ‘I hope the government will make these reforms a priority and introduce legislation as soon as possible. If taken forward, the draft Bill by the Law Commissions of the UK would allow us to respond more quickly and effectively to protect patients and maintain the standards of good medical practice.’