Jeremy Hunt announces the Conservatives will give the Care Quality Commission “teeth” to investigate any hospital or trust, without needing state permission, in the wake of the Mid Staffs scandal.
The health secretary told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that the CQC would be given statutory independence.
Mr Hunt said that under Labour, the CQC had been “leaned on” to “cover-up” problems in the NHS.
Labour betrayed the very people they claimed to stand up for. Jeremy Hunt
“The Department of Health was a denial machine, indeed the chair of the CQC talked of the pressure she was put under by a member of the government not to speak out.”
— Jos Bell (@Jos21) October 1, 2013
He went on: “Covering things up is not only worse for those who suffer, it means the problem doesn’t get fixed, and maybe repeated.
“It is not the rich who suffer. it’s the most vulnerable: disabled children, older people with dementia, those who don’t have relatives to kick up a fuss, ordinary people who put their faith in the system only to find the system wasn’t there for them when they needed it.
“Labour betrayed the very people they claimed to stand up for.”
For patients it is not public versus private, it is good care versus bad care. Jeremy Hunt
He also spoke about privatisation, accusing Labour of trying to focus NHS debate on “public versus private”.
“For patients it is not public versus private, it is good care versus bad care,” he said.
The government will legislate in the Care Bill to give the CQC statutory independence, “rather like the Bank of England,” Mr Hunt said.
He also claimed in his speech to “muck in” on the NHS frontline “most weeks” (see video, below).
Mr Hunt’s announcement followed one from David Cameron, in which he said the government would launch a £50m pilot scheme in nine locations of GPs surgeries staying open for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
The prime minister is hoping to ease pressure on accident and emergency (A&E) departments with the scheme, which will see GP surgeries in nine areas pilot opening hours of 8am to 8pm, including weekends.
The £50m scheme is an attempt to counter complaints that people working full-time struggle to get GP appointments, and will also include online consultations.
Mr Cameron said: “Millions of people find it hard to get an appointment to see their GP at a time that fits in with their work and family life.
Nearly half of GPs have been forced to cut services for patients due to lack of resources – Dr Clare Gerada, RCGP
“We want to support GPs to modernise their services so they can see patients from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
“We also want greater flexibility, so people can speak to their family doctor on the phone, send them an email or even speak to them on Skype.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who will talk about the initiative in his speech to the conference on Tuesday, said: “We live in a 24/7 society, and we need GPs to find new ways of working so they can offer appointments at times that suit hard-working people.
“Cutting-edge GP practices here in Manchester are leading the way, and we want many more patients across the country to benefit.”
The last Labour government offered GPs more money to extend their hours in the evening and at weekends. However funding was withdrawn by the coalition government, which said the demand for the service wasn’t there. Instead, 24/7 walk-in centres were launched in a number of areas.
But critics say that that cutting back on GPs hours has resulted in increasing number of non-emergency patients going to A&E – and this was blamed for A&E services being overwhelmed last Christmas.
Labour said that Mr Cameron’s announcement was a “major admission of failure” by the Conservatives.
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “Under the Tories, hundreds of GP surgeries are shutting their doors earlier after David Cameron scrapped Labour’s successful extended opening scheme.
“Patients are also finding it harder to get appointments, and turning to A&E instead, after he removed Labour’s guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours.
“So I sincerely hope Jeremy Hunt isn’t expecting applause on GP hours given how they have taken the NHS backwards from the position they inherited from Labour. An apology for the inconvenience they have caused to millions would be more appropriate.”
The first pilot projects are due to be operating by April 2014 with the hope they will be copied widely across the country.
The Royal College of GP’s (RCGP) said the £50m scheme was a “small first step” after years of under-investment in general practice, but warned that the money should be put into frontline services so that patients would reap the benefits.
Contact with GPs makes up 90 per cent of patients’ interaction with the NHS, but receives just 9 per cent of the NHS budget, the RCGP pointed out.
“GPs are keen to do more for their patients – with many already working 8 to 8 and at weekends – but we are heaving under the pressure of ever increasing workloads and diminishing resources, including a chronic shortfall of GPs,” said RCGP Chair Dr Clare Gerada.
“In our most recent College survey, nearly half (47 per cent) of GPs had been forced to cut services for patients due to lack of resources and over 70 per cent predicted even longer waiting times for appointments within the next two years.”
The latest initiatives follow announcements at the Conservative Party conference that the Tories will force the long-term unemployed to work for their benefits, will bring forward the Home to Buy 2 scheme, and freeze fuel duty.
Also speaking at the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday will be Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Education Secretary Michael Gove and Mayor of London Boris Johnson.