The issue of a lack of GP appointments is one that many local residents have raised with me. Across the Borough, too many people are having to wait weeks to get to see their local doctor or are forced to spend hours each morning on the phone trying to get an appointment for that day. Understandably, this is making people anxious and worried that they are not getting the care they need, when they need it. It’s also piling on the pressure on the out-of-hours service I-Heart and, in turn, on our Accident and Emergency Department at the Hospital.
I’ve been working hard – alongside the local community, GPs surgeries and Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – to alleviate the problems that patients are experiencing and ensure that everyone can get to see their doctor within a reasonable waiting time and take practical steps to improve the experience for patients.
However, this is sadly not an issue that is unique to Barnsley. Local GPs are doing their best with the resources they have, but there is a national crisis of recruitment and retention right across the profession. Not enough newly-qualified doctors are choosing General Practice and too many GPs are opting to practice elsewhere in the NHS: since 2010, 1,600 GPs have left the NHS. Quite simply, this is unsustainable, and we are seeing the direct impact of this crisis in our local surgeries when it comes to a lack of appointments, GPs having to employ strict time limits for patients and doctors, nurses and support staff being constantly overworked. I believe that this chronic lack of GPs must be addressed as a matter of urgency. That’s why, if Labour wins the next election, we will invest in local medicine; delivering 5,000 trainee GP roles within the NHS, which will have the effect of creating an extra 27 million appointments each year when the new GPs are fully trained.
Our plan will drastically relieve the pressures on our NHS – by increasing the number of trainee GPs by 50%. This will, of course, be felt most keenly in local surgeries and reduce the burden on hard-working and dedicated GPs in the first instance. But it will also have the knock-on effect of freeing up appointments and capacity right across the NHS. This will mark a dramatic change in attitude from what we have seen over the last decade. Since 2010, our NHS has been subjected to pointless and damaging reorganisation, in the form of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, whilst frontline services have not received the funding they need to continue to provide a world-class level of care.
I’m a regular visitor to Barnsley Hospital and recently met with staff and patients to discuss their first-hand experience of our NHS. Whilst I saw truly amazing dedication from everyone there, and a real commitment to the founding principles of the NHS providing care for all, free at the point of use; I also saw how much more could be achieved with more resources. Better facilities, doctors and nurses having the time to care and not being continually rushed off their feet and patients having a positive experience at what is a highly stressful time. All of that is possible if the NHS is properly funded. For over 70 years, the NHS has been the jewel in the crown of our public services – let’s make sure it stays that way.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 1 November 2019.