Launching a new election campaign poster based on claims that GP access has deteriorated under the coalition government, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said that general practice has been 'undermined' through budget cuts. Labour claims that almost 600 fewer practices now offer extended opening hours, compared to 2010.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt hit back at the claims, saying that Labour’s figures were 'wrong' and that the Challenge Fund, introduced by the prime minister in 2013, covers over 1,000 practices and 'helps 7.5m patients see a GP in the evenings and at weekends'. The Conservatives have pledged to have a 'truly seven-day NHS' should they win the May general election.
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: 'Targets and promises about providing more weekend and evening access to GPs sound well and good, but without more GPs, more practice staff and significant investment in general practice, they are meaningless.
'GPs and practice teams across the UK are working harder than ever, in and out of hours, to meet the demand of our growing and ageing population, but our resources are very thinly stretched.'
Dr Baker said that prioritising evening and weekend access 'over everything else' also means that in-hours services can suffer.
The RCGP has called for general practice to receive 11% of the NHS budget within the next two years and have 10,000 GPs in the UK by 2020. Baker says only when this is achieved 'will general practice be able to provide more care and services for our patients whenever they need them, close to home, where care is most cost effective and where our patients want it most'.