Many in Blackburn have been in contact with me recently regarding access to general practice.
I appreciate that GPs up and down the country work incredibly hard in often extremely difficult circumstances to provide the best possible care for their patients. However, I know that GPs are under incredible pressure in terms of workloads in Blackburn and across the country.
One of the key problems is that there aren't enough GPs. At the general election, the Labour Party manifesto I stood on included a commitment to recruit 8,000 more GPs, 20,000 more nurses, 3,000 more midwives, and to guarantee people a GP appointment within 48 hours, and on the same day for those who need it.
I am concerned that under the current Government the NHS and general practice is in crisis. In a recent survey by the British Medical Association, 68 per cent of GPs warned that their workloads were becoming unmanageable, and 55 per cent said that the quality of the service they provided had deteriorated in the last year. It is also concerning that recent reports show a large decrease in applications for GP training places.
I am aware of the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report which highlights problems with recruitment and retention of GPs; and urges the Government to set out how it plans to attract more GPs to general practice; and to report back on progress towards having an additional 5,000 doctors working in general practice by 2020. The Government has not yet responded to this report but I will follow this closely.
In April NHS England launched the ‘General Practice Forward View’, which pledges investment of £2.4 billion a year in GP services by 2020/21 and outlines plans for an extra 5,000 additional doctors to work in general practice by 2020. While I welcome this commitment to earmark extra resources for GP services, it is not ‘new’ money because it is coming out of the existing NHS budget. I am concerned that this will have a knock-on effect for other parts of the NHS.
It remains the case that since 2010, GP numbers haven’t kept pace with demand. This isn’t just bad for patients who face longer waits, or for GPs who find themselves increasingly overstretched, but also for the NHS as access to a GP is crucial to helping people stay healthy and out of hospital. It is very concerning that hospitals are dealing with record deficits, there is a crisis in A&E and record numbers of elderly patients are stuck in hospital because of a lack of care in the community.
The Government also remains committed to making £22 billion worth of efficiency savings in the NHS by 2020 which I believe simply cannot be delivered without harming patient care.