Poor GP access in deprived areas 'ridiculous', minister admits

Health minister Norman Lamb has said worse access to GP services in poor areas is 'ridiculous' and called for a 'patient premium' to support under-doctored areas.

Norman Lamb: variation in access 'ridiculous' (Photo: JH Lancy)
Norman Lamb: variation in access 'ridiculous' (Photo: JH Lancy)

The admission by the Liberal Democrat health minister was made at his party’s annual conference earlier this month and came to light after the LabourList website released an audio recording.

Mr Lamb said under-doctored areas tended to be lower income, inner city areas, ‘precisely the opposite of what should be happening’.

‘The prevalence of disease is generally greater in those areas and yet access is worse. That’s ridiculous,' he said.

He added: ‘We need to design as a party it seems to me some sort of patient premium to take the terminology from education. Or perhaps not, as nobody actually understands what the pupil premium actually is.’

Threat to services

The comments come after GP revealed new threats to APMS practices set up in deprived and under-doctored areas under the last government.

More than 120 practices were under review and many could face closure or reprocurement with heavy funding cuts. In London around 25 APMS practices with walk-in services face funding cuts as NHS England seeks to reduce their opening hours.

Dr Stuart Bingham from the Barkantine Practice in Tower Hamlets, east London, said it would be unviable if proposals to cuts its funding by 43% went ahead.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told GP he feared NHS England had forgotten lessons from the past that led the previous government to put more money into under-doctored areas through APMS contracts.

Save Our Surgeries campaigners in east London, responding to the threat from MPIG cuts, have said practices in deprived areas are disadvantaged by the Carr Hill funding formula which NHS England accepts does not adequately reflect some deprivation factors.

Labour shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne told LabourList Mr Lamb was admitting in private what ministers had refused to accept in public.

‘There are hundreds fewer GPs under David Cameron and it has got harder for people to get an appointment. The current pressure is deterring young medics from working as GPs, especially in deprived communities. Yet David Cameron won’t match Labour’s plans for 8,000 more GPs.’

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