The figures underline the true scale of the Tory-led Government's NHS crisis – with patients forced to turn to A&E as they struggle to secure a slot to see their doctor on the first working day after the Easter break, which saw doctors and NHS England express fresh concern about GP access and the resulting pressure on A&E departments.
David Cameron first promised seven-day opening for GP surgeries in the Conservative manifesto before the last general election in May 2010, but once in Government promptly cut back Labour’s scheme for evening and weekend GP opening.
Meanwhile, nearly two million more patients are unhappy with GP opening hours compared to three years ago as they lose access to evening and weekend appointments, according to new analysis of government statistics that flies in the face of repeated promises by David Cameron to support practices opening for seven days.
Labour today unveils its new poster on the NHS depicting a patient queue at a GP surgery and releases a full document on the declining GP services since 2010.
He repeated the pledge on last week’s ITV debate, claiming he wanted GPs to open "all the way through the week."
However, Government figures show 590 fewer GP practices now able to offer patients appointments on weekday evenings, Saturdays or Sundays, compared with 2010.
Labour’s extended hours scheme enabled GP evening and weekend opening at 77 per cent of surgeries by July 2009. Yet, David Cameron cut the scheme’s funding from £3.01 to £1.90 for every registered patient and removed the 48-hour appointment guarantee from the NHS Constitution – labelling it "no longer a priority".
The figures form part of a wider briefing on the Government’s primary care record, The Doctor can't see you now, covering appointment delays, a growing GP recruitment crisis and Labour’s commitment to hundreds more GPs in every English region.
Labour’s plan to ensure better access to family doctors will see 8,000 more GPs recruited by 2020 and will help surgeries offer more convenient opening times. Based on the current distribution of GPs in England, it would mean significant increases in GP numbers in every region.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:
“Today, across the country, people will face the frustration of joining a queue to see their GP – in some places the lines will go out of the surgery door. After five years of David Cameron, patients at hundreds of surgeries can no longer get a GP appointment when they need one.
“At the last Election, he promised to open GP surgeries seven days a week but the reality is that millions more patients are unhappy with opening hours. It is now harder to get an appointment from Monday to Friday too.
"One of Cameron’s first acts as Prime Minister was to cut Labour’s extended opening hours scheme and scrap our guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours. If David Cameron gets back in, his extreme spending cuts mean he can’t protect the NHS and the queues outside GP surgeries will get even worse.
“The NHS needs Labour's better plan for 8,000 more GPs, paid for with a £2.5 billion a year Time to Care fund, and guaranteed appointments within 48 hours.”