Labour is promising to guarantee patients a GP appointment within 48 hours by using tax rises on higher earners to fund a recruitment drive for new doctors.
The party’s health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said he would solve the crisis in surgeries by training an extra 1,500 GPs a year. But in a frank admission, Mr Ashworth accepted his party may have made a mistake when last in power by allowing family doctors to refuse out-of-hours work.
Labour health spokesman and MP for Leicester South Jonathan Ashworth
Labour negotiated a controversial deal with the GPs’ union in 2004 which enabled them to opt out of evening and weekend shifts. Ever since then out-of-hours services have been subcontracted to private firms who struggle to find enough doctors to fill rotas. Mr Ashworth told the Mail that the current system ‘in a lot of parts of the country… doesn’t provide the levels of care that patients deserve’.
GP surgeries across England are facing a recruitment crisis and patients in the worst affected areas are waiting three or four weeks for an appointment. Latest official figures show the NHS lost nearly 600 full-time family doctors in the year to June despite a major push to fill empty posts.
Mr Ashworth said a Labour government would train-up an additional 1,500 GPs a year by increasing the number of specialist training posts from 3,500 to 5000.
He has calculated this would cost an extra £272.6million annually which would be partly funded by putting up income tax for high earners on more than £80,000 a year. Other money would come from raising corporation tax for businesses, a controversial policy which experts fear will harm the economy by deterring investment.
GP surgeries across England are facing a recruitment crisis and patients in the worst affected areas are waiting three or four weeks for an appointment (file image)
But Mr Ashworth, who has been MP for Leicester South since 2011, said people would be prepared to pay higher taxes if they knew it was ‘going to fund quality care’. He claimed the additional GPs coming through training would free up an extra 27million appointments a year, which would dramatically reduce waiting times.
Eventually Labour would aim to guarantee all patients an appointment within 48 hours. However, the party’s reputation on GP policy has been severely tarnished by the botched contract with the British Medical Association in 2004.
When asked if he would make GPs take back responsibility for out-of-hours services as health secretary, Mr Ashworth said: ‘Out-of-hours has to be looked at again… We’re not announcing today a new out-of-hours policy or approach but I do understand that patients complain about it and we will have a discussion with GPs about how to fix it in the future.’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘This is about more than politics – it is about giving patients the care they deserve and having sufficient numbers of GPs to ensure that we are not risking our own health and well-being in providing that care.’