GP appointments for every patient within two weeks under Therese Coffey's plans

·4-min read
GP NHS - Anthony Devlin
GP NHS - Anthony Devlin

GPs will be told to give every patient who wants one an appointment within two weeks, with same-day slots for the most urgent cases, under pledges from Therese Coffey.

The new “Plan for Patients” will also name and shame practices with the longest waits, in a bid to drive up performance, with a war on red tape to ensure doctors can spend more time with patients.

Ms Coffey, a close ally of the Prime Minister, will on Thursday promise to be a “champion” for patients, who will put their priorities first, in a package which aims to free up an extra three million appointments.

But GP leaders on Wednesday accused the Health Secretary of “lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them.”

The pledges include a promise to recruit more support staff, as well as improvements to telephone systems, with record numbers of patients now struggling to even get through on the phone.

Official monthly figures show around 3.9 million people - one in seven patients - facing waits of at least two weeks to see a GP. The figure for July has risen from 3.1 million in the same month in 2021, when it represented 12 per cent of all patients, and 1.1 million in July 2020, when it was six per cent of those waiting.

It comes as public satisfaction with GP services is the lowest on record, with national polling almost half of people find it difficult to get through to their practice on the phone.

Earlier this year the GP survey found that 47 per cent of people struggled to get through to someone at their surgery - the highest by far since records began in 2012, when the figure was 19 per cent.

The changes to telephone systems aim to help ease the 8am scramble for appointments, tell patients how long they will have to wait for a response, and stop people being cut off.

Ms Coffey will set out details on Thursday of the new plan in the Commons as part of efforts to avert an NHS winter crisis, and reduce pressures on hospitals and ambulance services.

The changes will also mean more medicines - including contraception - ultimately supplied without a prescription, allowing patients to obtain it directly from pharmacies.

Writing for The Telegraph, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, urged her not to sacrifice her “natural instinct to be a reformer” with the political imperative to “keep the NHS quiet ahead of an election” - saying he had faced such instructions himself.

Ms Coffey is also expected to expand on Government plans to divert billions to social care, in order to reduce the number of patients stuck in hospital for want of care at home.

'Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations'

The Health Secretary is expected to say: “I will put a laser-like focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priorities and being a champion for them on the issues that affect them most.”

In March, figures revealed that public satisfaction with GP services had fallen to the lowest level on record. Under two-fifths of people were satisfied with the service from family doctors last year, according to the British Social Attitudes survey, the lowest proportion since it began in 1983.

Prof Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, on Wednesday criticised the announcement, saying it was “a shame” that she had not asked the College and its members for its views.

“Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them, will only serve to add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are facing, whilst having minimal impact on the care our patients receive,” he said.

More information for patients

Ministers will promise more information for patients, including data comparing waiting times at every surgery, for the first time ever, allowing patients to register with practices with the shortest waits.

The plan will promise the recruitment of more support staff so GPs can focus on treating patients, in order to free up around one million appointments per year.

It will also set out measures to change medication protocols, so that more medicines become available over the counter from pharmacies.

At first, the changes will mean that medication such as oral contraception is still prescribed by GPs, but regular checks, such as routine blood pressure tests, are carried out by pharmacists.

In time, pharmacists will be given the power to supply such medicines, following pilot schemes. Officials said these changes could free up around two million general practice appointments a year.

Amanda Pritchard, the NHS chief executive, said NHS staff were “working incredibly hard to deliver record numbers of GP appointments for patients, with 11 million more this year so far than the same period last year”.