Patients over 75 will be guaranteed a same-day appointment with a GP if the Conservative Party wins the general election, it was announced over the weekend.
In an interview with the Telegraph on Saturday, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the party will enable same-day access by introducing 5,000 new GPs by 2020.
A follow-up article published on the Conservative Party’s website over the weekend by chancellor George Osborne said this would be made possible via a commitment to a minimum real-terms increase in NHS funding of £8bn in the next five years.
Mr Osborne said this would fund the NHS reforms suggested in NHS England’s five-year plan, which includes new models for providing general practice.
However, the BMA said that this ‘simplistic’ age limit would risk ‘distorting clinical priorities’, while the Labour Party said that these pledges were unfunded.
In the article in the Telegraph, Mr Hunt said the UK must ‘face up’ to the ‘demographic timebomb’.
He added: ‘We will introduce during the course of the next Parliament same-day GP appointments for all over-75s. We need in the NHS is to be better at looking after people while they are at home so that they don’t need expensive hospital care in A&E departments.
‘We want to give everyone the confidence that they can get in to see a GP quickly. We can do that because of the extra investment.’
Mr Osborne said that the Conservatives backed NHS England’s plans.
But, he added: ‘There’s no point having a plan without the funding to deliver it, so today we commit to deliver what the NHS needs. The Five Year Forward View sets out a projected gap between costs and resources of up to £30bn by the year 2020-21. As the plan says, the majority of this gap, £22bn, can be made up through efficiency and reform, as well as improvements in public health and prevention that will keep people healthier for longer.
‘The NHS will do its part, and we will do ours. So I can confirm that in the Conservative manifesto next week we will commit to a minimum real-terms increase in NHS funding of £8bn in the next five years.
However, the GPC criticised plans for same-day access for the over 75s.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the GPC, said: ‘Putting in place a simplistic age limit for services runs the risk of distorting clinical priorities. It cannot be right for a 76 year old with a minor ailment to get preferential care at the expense of a 70 year old with a more serious condition.
‘There is also a question mark over whether GPs have the ability to deliver same day appointments when many GP practices are under intense pressure from rising workload and falling resources, and without the capacity to meet current demands.’
Responding to Mr Osborne’s statement, Chris Leslie, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: ‘George Osborne’s extreme plan to double the pace of spending cuts next year means he cannot credibly claim to protect the NHS. Other countries which have tried to make cuts on this scale have ended up cutting their health services. That’s why he wasn’t able to announce any extra NHS funding in his Budget last month
‘And the Tories have £10 billion of unfunded tax promises which they also can’t say how they will pay for and are ahead of the NHS in the queue.’
The NHS Five Year Forward View, published in October, set out a number of efficiency savings scenarios based on its plans for reforming services, especially primary, urgent and elderly care, by 2020. It said that if nothing was done the funding gap would be £30bn while a 2-3% efficiency saving per year would mean there was still £8bn annually missing from the budget.
But many have argued this is a very aggressive savings target, as since 2004-05 savings have been estimated at 1.5% per year and hospitals, the urgent care system and GP practices are already squeezed financially with no real terms pay increases for several years.
Mr Osborne announced a £2bn ‘down payment’ on the Five Year Forward View reforms in the Autumn Statement, while last week health secrerary Jeremy Hunt said the Tories would pay ‘whatever’ is needed for the NHS.