Lib Dems: Ease NHS crisis with more GPs and giving pharmacists further powers

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to train 8,000 more GPs and give pharmacists more prescribing power, as part of a plan to solve the pressures hitting the NHS.

The strain on the health service was revealed by recent NHS England data, which found a record 54,532 people waited more than 12 hours in A&E departments last month from a decision to admit to actually being admitted.

In addition, the proportion of patients seen within four hours in England’s A&Es fell to a record low of 65% in December.

The Government has cited the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and high rates of winter flu, but medics have warned the pressures are far from new.

State Opening of Parliament
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey (James Manning/PA)

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Government of being in “total denial” about the problems facing the health service, as the party set out five options it said would help bring the NHS “back from the brink”.

As part of the plan, due to be announced on Monday, the Lib Dems are calling on the Government to train and recruit 8,000 more GPs, while also ensuring that all allocated funding is released to better support social care.

Sir Ed said: “The appalling delays at A&E are needlessly costing lives as patients are left waiting hours on end for the treatment they need.

“The failure of the Conservative Government to grip this crisis is simply unforgivable. Instead they have shamefully allowed the situation to go from bad to worse through years of neglect and failure.

“Rishi Sunak is in total denial about the scale of the problem facing our hospitals, social care and GP services.

Industrial strike
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Pat Cullen joins striking nurses on the picket line outside University College Hospital, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“We need a proper plan now to free up hospital beds, reduce A&E delays and bring the NHS back from the brink. That must start with recruiting more GPs, empowering our pharmacists and helping people to leave hospital and into social care.”

The party is also calling on the Government to follow the example of Wales and Scotland by giving pharmacists the power and training to prescribe certain medicines and manage patients with illnesses such as diabetes.

The Government is also being urged to “negotiate in good faith” with NHS staff, as the pay dispute with healthcare unions continues.

February 6 is likely to see the biggest strike action the NHS has ever experienced, with Downing Street warning of “disruption” to patients.

The Lib Dems also said a new campaign is needed to encourage more people to come forward for a flu jab or Covid-19 booster.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS, like many healthcare systems across Europe and internationally, is facing huge challenges this winter due to rises in flu, Covid and the treatment backlogs left by the pandemic. We are working tirelessly to ensure people get the care they need, backed by up to £14.1 billion additional funding for health and social care over the next two years.

“As of September 2022 there are almost 2,300 more full time equivalent doctors working in general practice compared to September 2019, with record numbers in training. Also, since 2019 we have recruited over 21,000 additional staff into general practice.”

The department also highlighted the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.