The Health Secretary has promised to direct “a laser-like focus” on the needs of patients. She will set out in the Commons plans to ease the winter pressures facing the health service. A drive to improve access to GP appointments will be the centrepiece of the Government’s Our Plan for Patients initiative.
Ms Coffey will 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.
“Our Plan for Patients will make it easier to get a general practice appointment and we will work tirelessly to deliver that, alongside supporting our hardworking GP teams.
“We know this winter will be tough and this is just the first step in our work to bolster our valued NHS and social care services so people can get the care they need.”
Under her list of priorities, the secretary of state has promised to tackle ambulance wait times, backlogs, social care, doctors and dentists.
As part of the plan, pharmacies will ease pressures on family doctors by managing and supplying more medicines, such as those for contraception, without a GP prescription.
This could free up to two million appointments a year, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The Government plans to introduce advanced telephone systems to make it easier for patients to get through to their doctor’s surgeries from November.
And it intends to free-up funding for practices to employ more staff, including GP assistants and advanced nurse practitioners.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “NHS staff are 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.
“We will work with the government so we can support NHS staff to deliver these new ambitions for patients, underpinned by the development of a long-term workforce plan.”
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We are weeks away from what many predict will be the most extreme winter pressures that the NHS has ever faced.
“There is a lot riding on the secretary of state’s emergency plan.
“We welcome her taking the opportunity to set out the extra support that the Government will provide to help mitigate the risks to patient safety that local services are facing.
“We have days and weeks to get this right or risk a health emergency this winter.”
Forecasts from Doctors’ Association UK suggest up to 16 million people in England could be left without access to a GP due to growing staffing shortages.
Longer working hours and an increased workload have led to many doctors leaving the sector in recent years.
Figures from the Health Foundation in July showed a shortage of around 4,200 full-time equivalent GPs, which is projected to rise to around 8,900 in 2030/31.
There is a severe backlog for hospital treatments which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Significant ambulance waiting times and a lack of available dentist appointments have also put a strain on patients and medical staff across the country.
Meanwhile, the number of people stuck in hospital beds who are fit to be discharged is on the rise and currently higher than last winter.
According to NHS England figures, last month an average of 13,388 people a day were in beds but considered fit to leave. The figure was 10,925 people a day last December.
Patients get stuck in hospital when there is insufficient social care support in the community for them to be sent home.
David Fothergill, the chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing board, said: “Urgent support is needed for social care ahead of what is likely to be a verydifficult winter.
“Comprehensive funding of adult social care will not only alleviate pressure on the NHS but will mean thousands of people are able to live an equal life.”
A spokeswoman for the DHSC confirmed the appointments include those that are in-person and virtual, although the patient’s preference would be a priority.
NHS Digital figures showed 65 percent of consultations were made in person across England in July, compared to more than 80 per cent before Covid.
There is currently a shortage of around 4,200 full-time equivalent GPs, which is projected to rise to around 8,900 in 2030/31, figures from the Health Foundation in July showed.
The Royal College of GPs said around 85 per cent of appointments in general practice are already happening within two weeks of being booked, with 44 percent being delivered on the day they are booked.
Professor Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s a shame that the Health Secretary didn’t talk to the College and to our members on the frontline before making her announcement because we could have informed her of what is really needed to ensure a GP service that meets the needs of patients and is fit for the future.
“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.”
“Today’s announcement is not a plan. We need to see the implementation of a new recruitment and retention strategy that goes beyond the target of 6,000 GPs pledged by the Government in its election manifesto, funding for general practice returned to 11 percent of the total health spend, investment in our IT systems and premises, and steps to cut bureaucracy so that we can spend more time delivering the care our patients need and deserve.”
The Deputy Prime Minister also plans to urge the public to join a “national endeavour” to support the struggling health and social care sector.
She plans to issue the clarion call to volunteers who helped the NHS during the pandemic.