7 Apr 2015

NHS: Labour and Tory claims on GPs and A&E put to test

Labour’s poster has the headline: “The Doctor Can’t See you Now”, with a picture below it of a queue of people stretching out beyond the horizon with a sign saying “waiting room” at the other end. Strangely, the people in the picture seem to be wearing a mixture of flat caps or bandages, interspersed by a scattering of wheelchairs.  But the message is clear, of course.

What is not entirely clear is how accurate the figures are that Labour has provided to show that access to GPs has deteriorated. It is one of those things that patients accept as true.  That if you ring up and ask for an appointment you won’t get one for weeks.   But is it true?

According to Fullfact.org the first claim that 600 fewer GP surgeries across England are opening in the evening and at weekends compared to the time of the last election cannot be verified because there isn’t sufficient data.

They say that the figures are not produced in the same way as in 2010 “meaning they might not be precisely comparable”. This does not mean to say the claim is not true.  It just means it is hard to tell.

Equally,  a Conservative claim that early evidence shows the prime minister’s challenge fund has helped reduce A&E attendances and relieved pressure on GP surgeries, can’t be backed up, Fullfact.org says.  NHS England, they say, had already pointed out that it was too soon to tell, according to NHS England.

But does  it really matter whose facts and figures are right?  In the end, it is all about perception.  The rhetoric for some time now has been that it is difficult to get a GP appointment and in some parts of the country that is undoubtedly true.

On the other hand, when I have talked to GPs they seem quite bemused.  If an appointment is urgent, they say, they will find one for their patients.

One GP recently told me that when they had extended their opening hours, it wasn’t commuters getting back late who taking advantage of them, it was patients who could come at any time of the day.

And another GP said that a survey of their patients had found no real desire for opening on Sundays.

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What they do all say, though, is that they are overstretched, that their patient lists are growing, that it is harder than ever to recruit.


In West Herts, for instance, where we have been filming over the past few months, nearly one quarter of GPs are over 55 and due to retire in the next 10 years.


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