I know how important health services are to residents across our constituency.
The pandemic has raised many concerns about the future of our national health service. Constituents have been sharing their difficulties accessing GP appointments, long waiting times on the phone and issues securing face-to-face appointments. I have had multiple meetings and corresponded with local health leaders to get to the bottom of what is going on.
Like us all, GPs had to change their way of working in response to the crisis. This included switching to a triage system and increased digital appointments, which remain in place despite the easing of restrictions. I know this has been a source of frustration, but it has been for good reason. Health settings are a different environment. They take care of the most vulnerable people in our communities, who are at much higher risk of serious illness and their safety is paramount. I also know of GPs and nurses who were hit very badly with Covid, some still suffering from Long Covid due to the increased exposure they have had to very ill patients.
It is extremely encouraging that people are returning to normal use of the health services available, as this shows the confidence that we have regained collectively. In the last few months, we have seen a significant rise in requests for GP appointments, specifically face to face. In May this year, an estimated 23.5 million appointments were booked in England. Of these, 13 million were face to face, which is 55.3 per cent of all appointments.
I have spoken at length with our local NHS leaders on residents’ concerns and I know they are doing all they can to alleviate the backlog of appointments, whilst navigating the increased demand they are seeing. It is important we also do our bit by recognising the changes that have been made by GPs to protect their patients and staff. GP practice staff have encountered a growing amount of abuse which is simply unacceptable.
GPs understand the issues patients are facing and that many of us were expecting GP services to return to pre-pandemic ways – usually calling up and getting a face-to-face appointment on the day, or simply attending a ‘walk in’ appointment. I am assured that digital appointments can be the quickest, most effective way to access your GP and if you need a face-to-face appointment, you will be offered one. A decision would be made on clinical need and in some cases having a telephone or video consultation before a face to face one is deemed the most appropriate option. This is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future.
I would like to thank all constituents that have written to me on this issue. The Health Secretary recently announced a plan that includes a £250 million winter access fund which will enable greater capacity of services across England and our constituency. My ministerial colleagues and I will continue improving access for you and support for GPs.