Health Secretary vows to tackle GP access and keep A&E target

The Health Secretary has promised a “laser-like” focus on NHS problems as she laid out plans for patients to see their GP within two weeks and committed to a four-hour treatment and cure target.

Therese Coffey told MPs that “for the most part, patients have a great experience, but we must not overstate the problems we face”, as she noted that people’s access and care varied too much across the country.

Our Patient Plan, tabled in Parliament, means patients can see how well their GP practice compares to others, allowing them to join another practice.

The health secretary said a range of staff, such as pharmacists, GP assistants and advanced practice nurses, would be used to ease the burden on GPs, while urgent cases should be dealt with on the same day.

In her speech to MPs, Ms Coffey also pledged her commitment to the four-hour A&E target for admitting, transferring or discharging people.

The target has not been met since 2015. There have been four prime ministers during this time.

Ms Coffey said she recently endured a wait of nearly nine hours in A&E, adding: “I can say with certainty that there will be no changes to the four-hour waiting target in A&E.

Just in July I went to A&E, waited almost nine hours myself to see a doctor and still got no treatment

“I believe it is important and I will give you a recent personal experience.

“Just in July I went to A&E, I waited almost nine hours myself to see a doctor and I still didn’t get any treatment.

“I was asked to go back the next day so I went to another hospital which was only three miles away and was seen and treated appropriately.

“This is the kind of variation we see across the NHS.”

On ambulances standing outside hospitals for hours because they cannot transfer patients, he promised a “laser-like focus on transfer delays”.

What are the consequences if family doctors do not meet her expectations? Well, as we heard on the radio this morning, his message to patients is “get on your bike and find a new GP”.

He said 45% of ambulance handover delays occur in 15 NHS hospital trusts.

He said: “The local NHS is working intensively with these trusts to increase hospital capacity by the equivalent of 7,000 beds for this winter, freeing up beds, focusing on discharges and also keeping people in hospital at home and being monitored remotely using the kind of technology that played such a role during the pandemic an important role.

Ms Coffey said the £500m fund would allow people with the condition to be discharged from hospital faster, helping them get help in the community or at home instead.

The number of 999 and NHS 111 call handlers will also be increased to respond to calls more quickly, he told MPs.

Wes Streeting (James Manning/PA) (PA wire)

Ms Coffey also said the government was “exploring the creation of an ambulance helpline”.

He said the NHS “needs a real national effort”, adding that he wanted the “energy and enthusiasm” of those who volunteered during the pandemic.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting criticized Ms Coffey’s “Sesame Street” plan after questioning how the government would make it easier for patients to see a GP.

He told the House of Commons: “He says patients can see a GP within two weeks – his party scrapped the two-day guarantee that Labor put in when we were in government and he made it clear this morning that it’s not a guarantee at all, but the expectation.

“What is the consequence if the GPs do not meet his expectations? Well, as we heard on the radio this morning, his message to patients is “get on your bike and find a new GP”. Should patients be grateful for this?

The Royal College of GPs said it had not been consulted on the plans and that the league tables “do not improve access or standards of care”.

Goals don’t create more doctors

The King’s Fund said GPs were struggling with demand and “setting new expectations and targets will not suddenly increase general practice capacity”.

Helen Buckingham, director of strategy at the Nuffield Trust think tank, said: “The truth is that we have a persistent shortage of GPs as the number of GPs per person in England falls year on year.

“Goals don’t create more doctors.”

The document Our Plan for Patients sets out how NHS pension rules will be changed to “retain more experienced NHS staff and remove barriers to retirement”.

It said: “The new flexible retirement options include a partial retirement option for workers to use their pension and continue to build it while working more flexibly, allowing retired workers to earn more in their pension when they return to work.”

Work is also underway to reduce the risk of NHS staff having to pay annual benefits due to high inflation.

Retired or partially retired workers should be able to work without reduction or suspension of pension benefits.

“By 2023, all trusts must also offer pension rollover, which means that employer pension payments can be offered in cash rather than as a supplement to pension funds, helping to retain executives who have reached the lifetime benefit of tax-free pension accumulation,” it said.

The government has also pledged to tackle dental disparities and “dental deserts”, saying it will make it easier for foreign-trained dentists to practice in the NHS.

The plan is to increase the number of NHS 111 call handlers to 4,800 and 999 to 2,500 by December.

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