Wes Streeting has declared that the Tories pledging to address GP wait times is “like the arsonists promising to put out the fire” ahead of the launch of a government plan to improve access to the NHS and social care.
The Department for Health and Social Care said a “new drive” to improve access to GP appointments would be the “centrepiece” of the government’s proposals, which will be set out by Thérèse Coffey on Thursday.
The Health and Social Care Secretary will announce that every person who needs an appointment with a GP within two weeks will be expected to be able to get one and that patients with the “most urgent needs” should be seen on the same day.
Commenting on the proposals, the Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary said: “With the last Labour government, patients were guaranteed a GP appointment within 48 hours until the Conservatives scrapped it.
“The Conservatives promising to solve the difficulties patients face in getting a GP appointment is like the arsonists promising to put out the fire.
“Time and time again, Conservative ministers have promised a digital revolution in the NHS. NHS staff working flat out will have been hoping for something more advanced than the telephone to help them.
“The Conservatives have failed to provide the doctors and nurses needed to treat patients on time, and patients are paying the price in record long waiting times. Unless the government bring forward a plan for the NHS staffing crisis tomorrow, they don’t have a plan for the NHS.”
The government’s plan includes changing funding rules to recruit extra support staff and more “state-of-the art telephone systems” to make it easier for patients to contact their GP surgeries.
As part of the plan, ministers will also encourage the public to take part in a “national endeavour” to support the health and social care system, including a push for more volunteering across the NHS and social care.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea warned today that the health service and social care face the “biggest workforce crisis” in their history and that “offloading to volunteers” will not be the solution.
The union leader said: “There’s not even a whiff here that the government might have a serious plan to respond to the dire problems in hospitals and care homes. That begins and ends with a proper workforce plan to stem the growing exodus of staff leaving for much less stressful, better paying jobs.
“Only with decent wages will both sectors be able to hang on to experienced employees and attract the new colleagues so crucial to get waits and delays down. In every part of the NHS and care, severe staff shortages mean people are going without treatment and support for too long.
“Rather than cut taxes and boost banker bonuses, the government must show it’s genuine about solving the cost-of-living crisis. Ministers should stop holding down the pay of care workers, paramedics, hospital porters, nurses and other key workers so crucial to improving the experiences of patients and those in need of care.”
Launching the plan on Thursday, Coffey 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.
“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.”