GP leaders say Thérèse Coffey’s NHS plan will make ‘no tangible difference’ – UK politics live


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Coffey refuses to say whether she thinks sugar tax has been successful

Here is a summary of the main things Thérèse Coffey said on health policy on her interview round this morning.

  • Coffey, the health secretary and deputy prime minister, said the target for patients being able to see a GP within two weeks was “an expectation”, rather than a firm guarantee. Asked on the Today programme whether this was a guarantee or a target or just an ambition, Coffey said it was “an expectation” that she was setting out on behalf of patients. Alastair McLellan, editor of the Health Service Journal, says the government appears to have over-briefed what was actually being announced.

Once again the Gov’s NHS plans are revealed to be less robust than the press briefings.

Gov press release yday said ‘GPs WILL see people in 48 hrs’

Pree reports that – with steer – as ‘MUST’

now @theresecoffey says it is an ‘expectation’

— Alastair McLellan (@HSJEditor) September 22, 2022

Coffey’s clarification may come as a disappointment to readers of the Daily Express.

That’s open to the relationship between the GP and the patient I’m not going to be overly prescriptive. I know that some people enjoy just having a phone call, but may need to go in and see the doctor, I know that other patients are very keen in that regard.

  • She accepted that the NHS needed more doctors, but said the government had already set out a long-term plan to address this.

  • She sidestepped questions about whether the government is reviewing its anti-obesity strategy. (As Guardian readers will know, the strategy is being reviewed, on the orders of the Treasury; my colleague Denis Campbell revealed this last week.)

  • Coffey refused to say whether she thought the sugar tax – introduced to discourage people consuming soft drinks with a high sugar content – was working. There is evidence showing it has been successful, but Liz Truss is sceptical about government interfering with consumer choice, the cost of living crisis has made it harder to defend, and there has been speculation that her administration could axe the sugar tax too. When it was put to Coffey on the Today programme that most of her predecessors supported the measure, she said she had just been in the job for two weeks and was focusing on her plan for patients.

Good morning. The House of Commons will be sitting properly again today and Thérèse Coffey, the new health secretary and deputy prime minister, will make a statement on plans to improve the NHS. Liz Truss has said that, at the start of her premiership, she wants to focus on three priorities: health, cutting taxes, and energy. During the Tory leadership contest Truss talked a lot about the second two topics, but she said almost nothing about her thinking on health policy. Her campaign sent out almost 50 press releases, but only one of them mentioned the NHS, and only three mentioned health.

Some aspects of the announcement have been briefed overnight, and Coffey will be setting out “her expectation that everyone who needs one should get an appointment at a GP practice within two weeks”. Older readers may remember that around 20 years ago the Labour government has a target for everyone being able to see a GP within two days, not two weeks – although it led to GPs refusing to book appointments more than two days in advance, and was later scrapped by the Tories.

My colleague Denis Campbell has a preview of the announcement here.

So far doctors’ leaders have been unimpressed – primarily because they say Coffey is not addressing the main problem, which is a shortage of staff for the workload they are facing.

Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

Lumbering a struggling service with more expectations, without a plan as to how to deliver them, will only serve to add to the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are facing, whilst also having minimal impact on the care patients receive.

And Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee for England, said in a statement:

The target of GPs now offering appointments within two weeks is simply another addition to a tick-box culture highlighting a tone-deaf government approach when it comes to those delivering the service on the ground.

GPs need to be freed up to deliver the care that we know patients so desperately need – that means we need a genuine strategy to address the workforce crisis. There simply aren’t enough GPs and staff to deliver the care our patients need and deserve.

Today’s GP workforce data shows that between August 2021 and August 2022 we lost the equivalent of 314 full-time GPs. We now have the equivalent of 1,850 fewer fully qualified full time GPs than we did in 2015, with 16% more patients per GP. We are losing more GPs than we can recruit and this combined with cost of living pressures is starting to spell the end of GP practices as we know them …

If the new health secretary had met with us before this announcement we could have suggested a workable strategy to address the unfolding crisis before us for this winter and beyond – instead we have in reality minor tweaks that will make no tangible difference to patients struggling to access care.

Coffey has been giving interviews this morning. I will summarise what she has been saying shortly.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9am: The Institute for Fiscal Studies holds a briefing on what is expected in Kwasi Kwarteng’s “emergency budget” tomorrow.

9.30am: Census data for Northern Ireland, including figures on religious affiliation, is published.

After 10am: Thérèse Coffey, the new health secretary, makes a statement to MPs about plans to improve patient access to the NHS.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

12pm: The Bank of England announces its decision on changing interest rates.

2.15pm: The CBI, the Resolution Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation give evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about the cost of living.

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