A newly-appointed health minister suggested that Government investment is needed to make GPs ‘work more hours’ a few months before taking office.
Neil O’Brien, who has been appointed parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), also said cash would be needed to ‘lure retired GPs back from the golf course’.
Mr O’Brien made the comments in an opinion piece for Conservative Home in July, when he was serving as parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
He said: ‘47% of people say they struggle to get through to someone at their GP, up from 19% in 2012. We pledged to recruit 6,000 more GPs by 2024 to fix this, but the outgoing health secretary said we’re “clearly not” on track to hit this.
‘GPs take up to ten years to train, so improvements before the election will require money to lure retired doctors back from the golf course, or other jobs, or to get GPs to work more hours.’
However, he also suggested that funding was necessary to support the NHS.
He said: ‘We need reform to make the NHS more efficient and prevent people needing it. But we also need to be realistic: taming backlogs and sorting out GPs by the next election isn’t going to be any easier if substantial savings have to be made from the planned health budget. The same is true for the police, local government, and so on.
‘And pay pressures will likely intensify. Given wages are falling behind inflation, the Government will be pressed to go beyond 5%. Nominal increases in the private sector are running at 7-8% further ahead of the public sector than any time in the last 20 years.
A major Pulse survey in 2021 revealed GPs are working 11-hour days.
Other new DHSC appointments inclkde former housing secretary Robert Jenrick, who has been appointed as a health minister, joining new health secretary Therese Coffey and existing primary care minister James Morris.
Mr Jenrick was elected as the MP for Newark in 2014, and shortly after was elected to the Health and Social Care Select Committee where he remained until 2015.
He was previously housing, communities and local government secretary from 2019 to 2021 and exchequer secretary to the Treasury from 2018 to 2019.
He was involved in ensuring PPE was delivered to frontline workers in 2020.
Political commentators have speculated that Mr Jenrick will take extra responsibilities as the health secretary’s second in command or deputy, since Dr Coffey is also deputy Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the House of Lords may instate a new select committee specific to general practice.
Earlier this month (8 September), during a discussion on improving patient outcomes, Lord Patel suggested a Lords select committee on the future of primary care and community care, ‘identifying possible barriers and solutions that could make important contributions to making primary and community care fit for purpose and fit for the future’.
He said: ‘I still say that primary and community care are in intensive care; if we do not rescue them soon, they will die.
‘The problem will not be worse any more, because it will not be there.’
Fellow member of the Lords Lord Bethell agreed, and said: ‘There is no massive new wave of GPs set to save the day’.