GP practices won’t be punished if they fail to offer patients an appointment within a fortnight, Therese Coffey has admitted.
The newly-appointed Health Secretary said two weeks was ‘an expectation’ rather than a firm target.
During a round of interviews this morning, Ms Coffey added she did not want to not be ‘overly prescriptive from Whitehall about exactly how a GP will run their practice’.
The comments come despite reports last night that ministers could name and shame the worst performing surgeries in league tables.
Ms Coffey is due to unveil plans to improve access to family doctors this afternoon as public satisfaction with GPs is at an all-time low.
They include a demand for family doctors to offer same day appointments to the sickest patients and a two-week maximum wait for non-urgent patients.
But there will be scepticism over whether the plans will be enforceable or go far enough to make a genuine difference.
Ms Coffey’s plan will also include new telephone systems to make it easier to get through to receptionists and keep callers updated of their place in the queue.
The changes are aimed at easing the 8am scramble for appointments and ending the frustration of constant engaged tones or being left hanging on the line.
There have been reports of patients ringing over 60 times before finally getting through.
GP practices won’t be punished if they fail to offer patients an appointment within a fortnight, Therese Coffey has admitted
Ms Coffey told Times Radio the Government would ‘like GPs where possible to see very urgent cases on the same day’ and there is ‘wide variation’ across the country.
She said she did not ‘want to not be prescriptive from Whitehall, of course not, the relationship between doctors and their patients is important, but one of the things that we can do particularly by working through the local NHS, the integrated care boards, is in order to try and make sure that we share best practice and then focus in on those practices that may be struggling to make to meet the expectations that I’m setting out on behalf of patients’.
Ms Coffey said ‘it will be down to clinicians, of course, to those doctors doing that triage, on who they see on the same day and their prioritisation.
‘I think it’s fair that patients, when they ring up, not being told that they have to wait six weeks for appointments potentially, and that’s when we’re seeing other people turn to the parts of the NHS like A&E.’
On needing more GPs, she said: ‘Certainly we want more GPs, more clinicians, that’s all part of our longer-term plan that has already been set out.
‘What I’m doing at the moment is really getting focus on ABCD – the ambulances, the backlogs, the care, the doctors and dentists – but I’m very conscious that nearly everybody who accesses the NHS does that through primary care, through their GP, and that’s why I’m putting so much emphasis in what I’m going to do to try and help patients get what they expect from GPs and to help GPs deliver that as well.’
She was asked on LBC Radio if her pledges meant patients should see a GP face to face, or whether a telephone or video consultation would do.
‘I think that’s open to the relationship between the GP and the patient,’ she said.
‘I know that, throughout the pandemic, there’s been a variety of ways that people have interacted with seeing their GP. I’m not going to be overly prescriptive.
‘I know that some people enjoy just having a phone call, but may need to go in and see the doctor, I know that other patients are very keen in that regard.’
She said more than half of practices are already meeting the expectations she has set out, but she was not ‘intending to take a league table approach’.
Asked whether GPs who underperformed would face sanctions, she said: ‘Dare I say it … one of the points about also opening up and publishing data by practice is it may give some patients the opportunity to choose to use a different GP and to make that change as well.’
Ms Coffey was asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain what she planned to do about 130,000 vacancies across the NHS.
She said patients were her ‘top priority and I’m going to be their champion’.
Ms Coffey added: ‘That’s why I’m setting out expectations that when people phone up to try and get an appointment, of course some people will be need to be seen on the same day and the clinicians will decide that, but I think it’s a reasonable expectation that they should be able to see their GP within a fortnight’.
She said funding would be unlocked so that different types of staff could be recruited and funded, such as pharmacists, and this would allow GPs to ‘open up their appointments’.
Asked about social care and relieving the issue of bed-blocking in the NHS, Ms Coffey said this was being worked on, adding there were thousands of people ‘in hospitals who don’t need that clinical attention and would be better cared for outside of a hospital’.