Exclusive: Health secretary Jeremy Hunt answers questions from GP readers (part 2)

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has answered questions from GP readers about same-day GP appointments for over-75s, extended hours, privatisation and charging.

Mr Hunt answers GP readers' questions. Pic: Pete Hill
Mr Hunt answers GP readers' questions. Pic: Pete Hill

On Friday Mr Hunt answered the first of a series of questions from GP readers about a series of topics including GP recruitment, retention, bureaucracy and workload. Answers to your questions six to 10 below.

6. When access to NHS care is dependent on need not age, why have you promised same-day GP appointments for people aged over-75? Does this risk distorting clinical priorities?

We know over-75s are a particularly vulnerable group, often needing particularly proactive care and highly responsive service, so we are establishing this new guarantee for them. But clinical judgement will still remain so GPs can ensure they are treating the people who need it most, whatever their age.

7. At a time when GP workloads are spiralling out of control, why should we want to offer evening and weekend appointments as you propose?

1,100 practices up and down the country are showing that by working together, adopting new methods and embracing new technologies, it is possible to give patients the kind of timely, convenient access which they require, without hugely increasing GPs’ workload. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this scheme with GPs and as of this year, the number of practices participating is set to increase to 2,500 and will reach 18m patients. We want to build on this success and see every citizen get the same quality service and will continue to support practices in getting there.

8. How enthusiastic would a future Conservative government be for increasing privatisation of NHS services and introducing charging for GP appointments?

The NHS is something to be valued and protected, free at the point of use based on need not the ability to pay. The Conservative party will not be introducing charges for GP appointments or anything else.

9. Has the creation of CCGs with GPs at their helm meant GPs now have far less time to devote to caring for their patients?

The Conservatives believe strongly in clinical leadership of local health services. That’s why we gave GPs NHS budgets and have empowered them to take the decisions about how local services should be shaped. It is patients and doctors, not politicians, who know the needs of populations best. We must continue to support GPs who give their time to commissioning, particularly given the growing influence they will hold, but to abandon clinical leadership at this time would be disruptive for the service and a retrograde step for patient care.

10. GPs are grossly over regulated: have you thought of abolishing either the CQC or GMC?

Both the CQC and GMC play an absolutely vital role in protecting the public. They are utterly essential and to ignore this is to turn a blind eye to the terrible quality care from which patients suffered at places like Mid-Staffs and elsewhere. With clinical freedom and professional autonomy must come professional accountability – to the government, its regulators and ultimately the public. Our vision for the CQC is one which gives the public their right to an honest view about the quality of local services but which also acts as a spotlight on best practice which supports peer learning through peer review.

* Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have agreed to answer your questions in the run-up to 7 May. Keep a close eye on GPonline to find out what those answers are.

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