Health minister Dr Dan Poulter revealed the number of ‘domestic visits’ made by DH ministers in the last 12 months in response to a parliamentary question from shadow public health minister Diane Abbott.
The response came as the Francis report into failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust criticised the lack of visits to frontline NHS organisations by DH staff. ‘DH officials need to connect more to the NHS by visits, and most importantly by personal contact with those who have suffered poor experiences,’ the report said.
Lancashire GP and GPC member Dr David Wrigley said: ‘I think it’s quite shocking really, that the health secretary, overseeing the whole of the NHS hasn’t visited more surgeries.’
Dr Wrigley said it was important for Mr Hunt to talk to those working ‘on the ground'. ‘If he was worth his salt as health secretary he would have got out there and visited all parts of the NHS,’ he added.
Ms Abbott's question asked for details of how many visits DH ministers had made to dental practices, optometrists, GP practices, pharmacies and NHS walk-in centres in an official capacity.
Since becoming health secretary in September last year, Mr Hunt has visited just one location - the Adelaide Medical Centre, in north London, Dr Poulter replied. The visit took place in October.
Former health secretary Andrew Lansley visited two GP practices - the Nelson Health Centre in North Shields and the Sloan Medical Centre in Sheffield - and one dental practice before stepping down as health secretary in September last year.
Dr Poulter also revealed that health minister Earl Howe has visited two GP practices in the last 12 months, the Boulevard Medical Practice in Halifax and the Grange Group Practice in Huddersfield.
A DH spokesman said: ‘It is incredibly important that we do everything possible to listen to the views of GPs and frontline NHS staff, no matter where they work. There are a number of ways that ministers can do this, of which visits are just one.
‘The health secretary regularly meets with GP representatives of organisations like the GPC, RCGP and National Association of Primary Care whose job is to represent their members and make sure their voices are heard.’