GPs are the bedrock of our NHS. I pay tribute to all the incredible work they have been doing during the Covid-19 emergency, in my constituency in Chipping Barnet and beyond.
Our family doctor services will be permanently changed by the pandemic. Some 99 per cent of GPs are now able to offer video consultations – up from just three per cent pre-crisis.
This will be an enduring legacy of the outbreak, helping people get the advice they need as quickly and conveniently as possible, and releasing appointment time for those with more serious conditions.
However, we need clear principles in place to ensure that those who want and need to meet their family doctor face-to-face are still able to do so.
There may be signs that can be picked up when a patient is seen in person which would go unnoticed over Zoom. And we must make sure that those who struggle with technology, especially the elderly, do not feel shut out or deterred from seeking help.
The figures now revealed in The Telegraph regarding the drop in the number of people seeing their doctor – whether virtually or physically – are worrying. I want to emphasise that the NHS is open for business. If you are ill and you need advice from your GP you should ring your local surgery, as normal.
It is important for GPs to reinforce this message with their patients. Even during the height of the pandemic, dedicated GPs in my constituency were still looking after people with non-Covid conditions, including an emergency for one constituent where their GP was able to arrange extensive hospital tests just hours after she began showing symptoms of a potentially fatal condition (all the tests were thankfully negative and she has made a full recovery).
These figures are also a reminder that we must expand GP surgeries, something for which I have been campaigning locally for several years. As we grow older as a society, there are more of us who are frail and elderly. The demand for healthcare has been rising steeply and this will continue.
That is why the Conservative commitment to increasing NHS annual funding by £33 billion is so crucial. This will be the largest ever cash increase in the history of our health service and a substantial part needs to go to primary care and provide more GPs.
The Conservative manifesto commits us to delivering 50 million more appointments a year in GP surgeries. We have promised to train an extra 500 GPs every year, starting next year. We want this to provide another 3,000 doctors for the NHS by 2024/25. We have also set out plans to retain an extra 3,000 GPs — taking the total to 6,000 by the end of this Parliament.
It is imperative that we deliver on these commitments.
Past Conservative manifestos also made big promises on GP recruitment, and while a record 3,538 started training last year, problems with getting a GP appointment when you want one have persisted.
So we need to get more young people training to become doctors and we need to make the GP career path an attractive one to embark on and stay on. Greater efforts are needed to keep women in the profession and ensure that being a GP is a job which can be managed alongside caring responsibilities.
We must also fix the pension issue which has pushed experienced family doctors to retire early because carrying on means a big tax hit.
Perhaps most importantly of all, we need to put our social care system on a stable footing for the future. The pressure on social care has, in turn, left many GP surgeries over-stretched.
If we can build a lasting cross-party consensus for a fresh approach on social care, this would be a massive step forward towards ensuring that our GPs can continue to deliver the best possible service for all of their patients.
Theresa Villiers MP for Chipping Barnet