The past two years has been a challenging time for our local GPs working in the NHS, and now with the Covid-19 booster programme well underway, as well as the biggest flu vaccination programme. I know they are doing all that they can to prepare for winter. With more bugs flying around now that people are able to mix again, as well as the need to treat COVID-19 patients has contributed to longer wait times for non-COVID-19 care, the Government is making the NHS its number one priority.
We are spending £5.6bn this year, to start to tackle the backlog, with an additional £12bn in each of the following three years, to ensure that those who have had to wait for treatment can be seen as soon as possible. The NHS has also outlined its £250 million Winter Access Fund which aims to enable local practices to increase the number of GP appointments and improve availability so that patients who need care can get it, with a focus on increasing capacity to boost urgent same-day care. This fund will be on top of the additional £270 million made available by NHS England over the last 11 months to expand capacity and support GPs.
Locally, I know just how important this is and I continue to work with our local GP practices and the NHS CCG to improve accessibility. I also know that some practices still experience issues with the phone service and I know that the NHS partnerships are working urgently to address these issues. The new access fund will support upgrades to phone systems to ensure that more patients can quickly and easily speak to general practice staff – this will be a relief to many.
The plan also asks that GP practices seek patients’ input (vital for helping to push for improvements as we have seen locally) and respect preferences for face to face care, unless there are extenuating circumstances. May residents have contacted me to ensure that their local GP surgery can provide more face-to-face appointments without long waits. This plan intends to do just that and I will continue to work with our local NHS and patients to provide support to our local surgeries. In the meantime, it is also worth remembering that our fantastic local pharmacies are able to offer advice and provide remedies for winter colds and other bugs.
Elsewhere I have been meeting with lots of local businesses who are also facing unprecedented challenges. Thankfully, the jobs market is looking much better than initial forecasts predicted, with another fall in the unemployment rate (now at 4.5%) and a record number of job vacancies (1.2 million) available. When I was at the DWP, I spent a lot of time throughout the pandemic helping to create support packages for businesses looking to fill job vacancies as well as help to jobseekers looking for work. Thankfully, support through the furlough scheme (which protected over 11m jobs), our £30bn plan for jobs and £27bn paid in Self-Employed income support grants, there are more people back in work and able to support their families.
The Government is also working closely with business to ensure that any issues arising from global issues including the HGV shortage and delays at ports are addressed as quickly as possible. We absolutely understand the importance of supporting our economy and delivering growth across all parts of the country.