This week the World Health Organisation has officially confirmed that Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency. However, the impact of the pandemic continues to put pressure on healthcare systems around the world. Recent studies have shown that no country has been spared from disruption- with screening services most affected and systems now reporting a surge in people needing appointments.
In this country we know these are issues and we are determined to fix them, starting with GP appointments. That’s why we have launched our Delivery Plan for Recovering Access to Primary Care. There has been some improvement already - general practice is delivering 10% more appointments each month than before the pandemic, the equivalent of the average GP surgery seeing about 20 additional patients every working day. This is down to the hard work of staff, and the significant investment to grow the general practice workforce by 27% since 2019.
Locally, I continue to work closely with our local GP practices and the Integrated Care Board. Some of the surgeries which were struggling have now been taken over by successful GP partnerships including Abbey Meads & Moredon, whilst others including Merchiston have now got a new management & phone system to try and tackle the real issue that residents were having with getting through to the surgery. All are seeing significant improvements. I have since arranged for representatives to meet with both the Secretary of State for Health and his Ministers to share both the best practice of the new groupings and how we can simplify the process to accelerate improvements.
I have also worked with the Great Western Hospital NHS Trust to relocate the Midwifery services from Merchiston to the Grange Leisure Centre, freeing up more space in the surgery whilst ensuring that the Midwifery team have an appropriate clinical space which is convenient for local families.
But there is more to do. Our plan will involve tackling the 8am rush, investing £35,000 per practice to provide new technology to make it easier to get through and get a response on the same day- including investing in better phone systems and easier digital access. This is something I have raised repeatedly– freeing up the phone lines and increasing capacity is key, and I brought the Minister to Tadpole GP surgery to witness a good GP surgery with decent systems in action.
We are also introducing pharmacy first which will invest up to £645 million to enable to pharmacists to provide treatment for common conditions- saving GP times & freeing capacity. I continue to work with our fantastic local pharmacies and ensure there is adequate local provision- they have a key role and it’s important that we allow people to utilise them as a first port of call.
Our NHS workforce plan is key – expanding GP training, increasing clinicians and increasing appointments by an extra 50 million by March 2024. We are also helping to retain senior & experienced GPs with tax changes & reforming pension rules.
With an ever-increasing population, more demand than ever before and the huge impact of Covid-19; we will continue to increase (in real terms) investment in the NHS, spending £180.2 billion this year – together with these important reforms we will deliver on our pledge to cut waiting times.