Last week, the British Medical Association launched the ‘support your surgery’ campaign. The campaign calls for better investment in GP services and includes a petition urging the Government to improve buildings and source more GPs.
This campaign is really important, and the reported difficulty in accessing GP services will come as no surprise to residents in Tameside. Getting a face-to-face GP appointment seems to be getter harder and harder, and has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the roll-out of virtual appointments. In July, I raised the issue with the Minister of State for Social Care and asked her what she was planning to do to fix the problem. I didn’t really receive an answer, nor did I feel the severity of the issue was being fully grasped by the Government.
We all pay in to fund our brilliant NHS, and we all have a right to access local health services. Our GP is often the first point of contact when we have a health problem, and it is crucial that they are accessible. In the aftermath of a year of lockdowns, many serious health conditions run the risk of being missed if people do not see their GP, and that’s why we should be moving heaven and earth to pump money into GP surgeries that are being systematically underfunded.
Something else that the Government seems to miss is that access to GP appointments is not evenly distributed across England. For example, in a recent NHS patient survey 41% of respondents in Tameside found it difficult to get a GP appointment. This is compared to just 25% in South West London. This kind of regional inequality is stark, and makes ‘levelling up’ virtually impossible until it is addressed.
It is both worrying and infuriating when you can’t get through to your GP, but it is important to recognise that the source of the problem isn’t your local GP service. NHS staff are working tirelessly to give you the best service that they possibly can but are working in incredibly difficult conditions. The blame for GP waiting times and inaccessibility must be placed at the door of the Government, who need to start listening to healthcare professionals who have long called for increased funding and increased staffing.
My job, as your elected representative in Parliament, is to put as much pressure as possible on the Government to sort this problem out. I share your frustration, and I will do everything I can to voice your concerns once Parliament returns next week.