Exclusive: Health minister Norman Lamb answers questions from GP readers

Health minister Norman Lamb has answered questions from GP readers on topics including whether a Lib Dem vote is a wasted vote, GP recruitment and GP retention.

Mr Lamb: 'We are the only party with a fully costed proposal to fund the £8bn NHS chiefs say they need.'
Mr Lamb: 'We are the only party with a fully costed proposal to fund the £8bn NHS chiefs say they need.'

Read the answers to the first five questions below. We'll be posting the answers to another four questions from GP readers to Mr Lamb on Friday.

1.    With the next prime minister likely to be either David Cameron or Ed Miliband, isn’t voting Lib Dem a wasted vote?

All the polls point to the fact that neither Cameron nor Miliband can win a majority. That’s why the Tories have been so busy stoking up fear of a Labour/SNP coalition. But they’ve remained suspiciously silent on the frankly terrifying prospect of a ‘Blukip’ Tory deal with Farage and the DUP.

The Lib Dems can stop that and prevent a lurch to the left or the right. Far from being a wasted vote, the Lib Dems in this government have exposed the lie of that tired cliché, and in the next will be the insurance policy that keeps the country on track. A vote for the Lib Dems is a critical vote that can – and will – help us to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, with opportunity for all.

2. Won’t your plans effectively sideline the GPs leading CCGs and mean elected politicians in councils eventually control NHS spending?

Not at all. Our plans in the next government will see GPs continue to play a crucial role in determining local health spending. But we also want to give GPs more opportunities to feed in their expertise to guide how public health money can support preventative work, and how social care can help reduce demand and increase efficiency both for GPs and, critically, for patients. Bringing together health and care budgets and commissioning is the only way to improve integration and make the system work better for everyone – and people in every part of the system instinctively support it. That’s why the Better Care Fund increased by over £1bn thanks to the enthusiasm of many GP-led CCGs and councils, who recognised the difference pooled budgets will make.

3. With a third of GPs looking to retire in the next five years, and a recruitment crisis like we’ve never seen before, why aren’t the political parties seeing the blatantly obvious?  If the bureaucracy was removed from primary care, and GPs were left to treat patients I could foresee a primary care where patients were able to get the access they need to their GP.  What plans do you have to cut the paperwork GPs are required to do?

We want to make it easier for patients to access primary care and ease the pressures we know GPs face. There is no silver bullet, but we want to make sure that GPs feel supported with their workload, and don’t have to deal with unnecessary bureaucracy that keeps them away from their patients. As well as hearing from GPs what steps we can take to sensibly reduce paperwork, we also want to ensure that GPs – and doctors and nursing staff across the NHS – have IT that they can rely on to make their lives easier. In the next parliament we will also put a much greater emphasis on the expertise of community pharmacy in dealing with minor ailments and supporting patients to manage their conditions to reduce pressure on GPs and A&E units.

4. If it takes seven years to train a GP and training posts are unfilled, where are the thousands of extra GPs we need going to come from?

The Lib Dems want to ensure that we have an NHS fit for the future. That’s why we are the only party with a fully costed proposal to fund the £8bn NHS chiefs say they need to ensure that it remains a world leading health service. But unlike Labour and the Tories, we know that it is unrealistic to look at NHS funding in isolation, and that’s why we want to have a rapid, independent review of funding for health and care to ensure that the first spending review of the next government takes into account anticipated levels of resource and demand. This also means looking at what staff the service will need in the future, and what needs to happen to make sure these staff are in place at the right time so that the NHS can continue to deliver a fantastic service for patients and the public.

5. Of course we need to increase the number of GPs being trained but this is a timely process.  surely the more pressing issue is how to improve GP retention. How do you you propose to stem the tide of GPs either retiring early or taking their skills overseas?

The Lib Dems are the only party who will give the NHS the stability it needs by promising to fund it properly. And we have made clear our commitment to ending the public sector pay freeze so that dedicated NHS staff are no longer asked to make further sacrifices in return for their hard work. We know that recognising the critical importance of the NHS by committing the funding it needs, and recognising and valuing the work of its fantastic staff makes a huge difference to morale and will be the only way to keep talented GPs in the NHS.

* Visit GPonline on Friday for Mr Lamb's answers to your questions on topics including minimum unit pricing for alcohol, the Health and Social Care Act and GPs in CCGs.

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