GP access worse under coalition government, Labour claims

General practice has been left demoralised as a profession by the coalition government, with nearly 600 fewer practices offering extended opening hours, Labour has claimed.

GP access: Labour election poster
GP access: Labour election poster

The party launched an election campaign poster on Tuesday highlighting what it claims is worsening access to GP appointments under the coalition government. But the Conservatives said Labour’s figures were wrong and that new Challenge Fund schemes had improved access.

Labour said 590 fewer practices in England offered evening and weekend appointments through the extended hours DES compared to 2010. The party said 77% of practices had participated in the scheme in 2009, but that had fallen after funding was cut from £3.01 to £1.90 per partient.

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter told parliament last month the number of practices offering the DES was 'over 70%' in 2013/14.

Read more: Jeremy Hunt exclusive interview

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said GP services had ‘gone backwards’ under the coalition government.

‘People's day to day experience is that they are ringing the surgery and they just can't get an appointment,' he said. 'That is why the figures show so many people dissatisfied with the opening hours of their surgery.’

Mr Burnham said he was not blaming GPs for the problems the service faces. ‘I think we have a situation here where the government has undermined general practice throughout this parliament, it has cut the general practice budget.

‘They said they would put GPs at the heart of the NHS ... we end this parliament with general practice a demoralised profession and under intense pressure, and I hold the government squarely to account for that,' Mr Burnham said.

48-hour GP target

Labour has pledged to restore a guaranteed GP appointment within 48 hours funded with £100m and to recruit an additional 8,000 GP paid from from a £2.5bn pot.

The Conservatives said Labour’s figures did not take account of improved access schemes set up by the prime minister’s GP access challenge fund.

‘Labour’s figures are wrong,' health secretary Jeremy Hunt said. ‘The prime minister’s Challenge Fund already covers 1,100 practices and helps 7.5m patients see a GP in the evenings and at weekends. We are extending this scheme to cover over 1,400 additional practices, helping 10m extra people by this time next year.

Mr Burnham said the Challenge Fund would not rectify the problem because it only covered a minority of practices and patients.

The Tories have said they would ensure 8am to 8pm and weekend access for all patients in England by the end of the next parliament and recruit an extra 5,000 GPs.

Seven-day NHS

Mr Hunt said: ‘The next Conservative government will deliver a truly seven-day NHS, putting right a problem which began with Labour's disastrous 2004 GP contract.’

Speaking exclusively to GP last week Mr Hunt said if re-elected his party would put GPs at the ‘heart’ of a revolution in NHS service provision.

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