The Labour Party has given the most detail yet about its plans for general practice should gain power at the next election, at a set-piece speech to delegates at the Pulse Live conference.
Speaking to delegates, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth announced a £500m infrastructure fund dedicated to primary care as part of a proposal to spend £5bn a year on the NHS, via a tax rise for the top 5% of earners.
He pledged that general practice would see a rising proportion of the NHS budget – a promise the current Government has yet to achieve.
He acknowledged the ‘intolerable pressures’ that GPs are under, adding that a Labour government would ‘honour the commitment’ to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs – which he pointed out the Government is ‘far from being on track’ to achieve – looking at how it ‘can make general practice more attractive to medical students’.
Mr Ashworth also said Labour would ‘explore options with you for the future of the contract and the future of the [QOF] which I think many agree hasn’t delivered as hoped for’.
In a speech spanning a wealth of topics – his first substantive speech on general practice – Mr Ashworth also said Labour would support a widening of the salaried GP workforce.
He said: ‘We support the partnership model where it works and can recruit but equally we are aware that large parts of the country are indeed struggling to recruit GPs.
‘We don’t believe in a one size fits all solution so instead I want to work with GPs to develop models for the future including salaried GP models.’
And he promised Labour would not pursue the Government’s quest for seven-day opening, billing the directive ‘unrealistic’ when ‘the capacity simply isn’t there to deliver it’.
Mr Ashworth said said Labour is ‘is prepared to take the tough decisions for the long term sustainability of the NHS’ by making ‘different choices on levels of taxation’.
Asked where the money was coming from, Mr Ashworth said: ‘We are going to put up tax for the top 5% of earners, the very wealthiest of society, we will ask them to pay more tax.
‘We think the state of the NHS is such that it needs significant levels of investment, and my hunch is that the British public would broadly support increasing taxes to the very wealthiest of society if the yield from that taxation goes to fund the national health service.’
And, as part of plans to support a diminishing practice nurse workforce, he said Labour will reinstate the nurse training bursary which the current Government scrapped, and announced an upcoming review into the primary care workforce to be led by shadow minister for community care Julie Cooper.
On the overall boost to funding, Mr Ashworth said: ‘Given how central primary care is to our future vision of the NHS, absolutely key to our ambitions to tackling ill health and wider heath inequalities in society, general practice will get its fair share of this investment too.’