Labour would force GPs to offer everyone face-to-face appointments

Labour reveals it would force GPs to offer everyone face-to-face appointments to stop patients fighting ‘impossible’ battle to be seen

  • Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting says ‘patients must come first’ 
  • Plans include making booking appointments simpler to end the 8am rush 
  • Every GP practice will be required to allow bookings through the NHS app 

Labour plans to force GPs to provide face-to-face appointments to every patient that requests them, Wes Streeting revealed today.

The shadow health secretary said ‘patients must come first’ as he announced the proposals at the Labour conference in Liverpool.

The plans included making booking appointments simpler to end the 8am rush to win a slot, and requiring every practice to allow bookings through the NHS app.

Mr Streeting’s announcement comes after his opposite number Therese Coffey last week set out her policies to crack down on the growing crisis in general practice.

One of her measures is releasing performance ‘league tables’, allowing patients to compare how long waiting lists are at their local doctors’ surgery. 

Dr Coffey claimed this would ‘give some patients the opportunity to choose to use a different GP’ if they struggle to get an appointment. 

But Mr Streeting slammed the plans, saying her answer to patients was to ‘get on your bike and find a new GP’.

Unlike Dr Coffey’s ‘ABCD’ — ambulances, backlogs, care homes, doctors and dentists — list of priorities, his plans would address the staffing crisis by ‘doubling the number of medical school places’, he said.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said ‘patients must come first’ as he announced proposals that would force GPs to provide face-to-face appointments to every patient

Map shows: The proportion of GP appointments made in-person in July across England’s integrated care boards

There were just 27,558 full-time equivalent, fully-qualified GPs working in England last month, down 1.6 per cent on the 18,000 recorded in June 2021. It was down 5.3 per cent on the more than 29,000 working in June 2017

Meanwhile, the figures also showed fewer than half of appointments across the country were with a fully-qualified GP

Almost half of GP appointments are done on the same day but there is massive variation around the country

Struggling GPs will be allowed to refuse appointments and send patients to other surgeries under a radical ‘red alert’ warning system.

Family doctors will also be given the right to conduct ‘most’ consultations remotely and enforce telephone triage when they cannot cope with demand.

It means sick Britons may have to plead with receptionists to be seen in person, as happened with devastating effect during the Covid pandemic.

NHS hospitals are already protected by a policy when high levels of demand threaten patient safety.

It allows trusts to receive external support, postpone non-urgent operations and divert ambulances elsewhere as pressure mounts.

Mr Streeting claimed the principle of a publicly funded, free-at-the-point-of-use NHS is ‘under attack’, telling those who want to abandon it: ‘Over my dead body’.

Mr Streeting told the conference: ‘The challenge today is even greater than it was in 1997.

‘The very principle of an NHS publicly funded, free at the point of use, is now under attack.

‘Conservatives who spent the last 12 years running down the NHS are now using their failures to claim that the NHS is beyond repair.

‘Lots of you know that I went through kidney cancer last year. 

‘When I received that cancer diagnosis there were so many things I worried about, but the one thing I didn’t have to worry about was the bill.

‘So, to those who argue we should abandon a publicly funded NHS free at the point of use I say: over my dead body.’

Speaking ahead of his speech earlier today, he said: ‘Patients are finding it impossible to get a GP appointment when they need one, in the manner they want one.

‘The Conservatives have closed hundreds of practices since the 2019 election and are breaking their manifesto promise to hire more GPs.

‘Labour will train the doctors our NHS needs to treat patients on time by doubling the number of medical school places. 

‘We will require GPs to give patients the choice of where and when they want their appointments. Patients must come first.’

Dr Farah Jameel, the British Medical Association’s England GP committee chair, said doctors are ‘desperate’ to provide patients with the care ‘they need and frankly deserve’.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult during a deepening workforce crisis, she said.

Dr Jameel said: ‘We simply don’t have enough doctors.

‘While it’s good to see Labour recognising the workforce challenges, it’s disappointing to see politicians once again making divisive headline-grabbing promises that are not grounded in reality, and which suggest the existing workforce are somehow not trying hard enough.’

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting criticised Miss Coffey’s ‘Sesame Street’ plan, which she has called ‘A, B, C, D’ – ‘ambulances, backlogs, care and doctors and dentists’

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘GPs want to do the very best for their patients and we share their frustrations when they find it difficult to get appointments when they need them.

‘GP access is important but it is only a starting point to ensuring our patients receive the safe, personalised and appropriate care they need. 

‘What we really need to address are the huge workload and workforce pressures that are the real reason why patients are facing such long waits to see a GP.

‘The college has always said that post-pandemic patients should be able to access GP care and services in a variety of ways depending on their health needs and preferences. This is already happening.’

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