GP referrals blocked as Hunt says seven-day service can end NHS 'humanitarian crisis'

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that seven-day GP services will resolve NHS problems dubbed a 'humanitarian crisis' by the Red Cross, as GP leaders report that practices have been told some hospitals cannot accept routine referrals.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt (Photo: Pete Hill)
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt (Photo: Pete Hill)

The health secretary responded this morning for the first time to claims by the British Red Cross that NHS hospital and ambulance services are suffering a ‘humanitarian crisis’ after the NGO was called in to support trusts struggling under winter pressures. It said that in 24 hours, 14 trusts had warned of overcrowding in their A&E units.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Mr Hunt said that although there were ‘some very serious problems in some hospitals’, the majority were ‘coping slightly better this year than last year’.

Problems had been created by NHS bodies decommissioning hospital beds without making community provision available first, said Mr Hunt. But the NHS England Five Year Forward View was implementing service transformation with an additional £4bn funding this year, he added.

Seven-day GP service

‘In London from next March, everyone will be able to access a GP from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. And that is what we need to do to reduce the pressure on hospitals.’

Also, he said, there should be an expansion of the number of GPs working in care homes to help prevent elderly patients being admitted to hospital.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that GPs in many areas had received messages from hospitals and community nursing providers advising practices of ‘significant pressures’ and ‘in some cases saying that they cannot accept routine referrals’.

‘This leaves GPs in very difficult situations with limited or no options to refer patients in need to. The scale of the problem seems far worse than we've seen in recent years.'

The Red Cross on Friday called on the government to properly fund health and care services with a focus on prevention. British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said the NGO, which provides support to under-pressure NHS trusts, was seeing patients sent home from hospital without appropriate care and support.

‘The British Red Cross is on the front line, responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country,' said Mr Adamson. ‘We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much-needed beds.

‘We call on the UK government to allocate immediate funding to stabilise the current system and set out plans towards creating a sustainable funding settlement for the future.’

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