Hundreds of doctors’ surgeries have stopped seeing patients in the evenings and at weekends since the Government launched its controversial overhaul of the National Health Service, Labour claimed today.
The party argued that the cutbacks were linked to steep rises in admissions to hospital accident and emergency units and to increases in numbers of people facing extended “trolley waits” for treatment.
Based on returns from 91 of England’s 151 primary care trusts, it calculated that nearly six per cent of GPs – equivalent to 477 practices – had scrapped evening and weekend surgeries in the last year. It said the sharpest falls had happened in Hartlepool, Newcastle and Haringey, north London, and claimed people were waiting up to three weeks for an appointment with their family doctor.
Labour said the closures increased the pressure on A and E departments, calculating they handled 21.5m visits in 2011-12 compared with 20.5m visits two years earlier.
It also claimed that the number of people waiting more than four hours to be admitted to hospital – so-called “trolley waits” – more than doubled over a year to 106,900 in 2011-12.
Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, said Labour’s data showed 12 NHS walk-in centres had closed, adding: “This all builds the pressure on GP appointments."
He accused David Cameron of breaking his pre-election pledge that all patients would be able to see their local GP until “8pm seven days a week”.
Mr Burnham said: “The combination of the financial challenge with the biggest ever reorganisation of the NHS has served to severely destabilise the NHS at a critical moment. We can demonstrate it is having a direct impact on standards of patient care.”
Janet Davies, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Patients need to know why appointments are being restricted in this way. The irony is that at a time when the NHS should be trying its hardest to keep people out of hospital, and helping them in the community, pressure is being piled on already overstretched hospitals.”
A Conservative spokesman said it was “more than a bit rich” for Labour to lecture the Government on out-of-hours access to doctors when it was their “disastrous” GP contract plan which led to 90 per cent of surgeries dropping the service.
“Our plans to put doctors back in charge of the NHS, which were opposed by Labour, will mean local doctors will once again be responsible for caring for their patients out of hours and will offer patients a real choice of which GP surgery to go to.
“This Government is taking the necessary tough decisions to clear up the mess left to us by Labour,” he said.
Labour has said it will focus on the impact of the NHS reforms, producing monthly updates on their effect on patient services.
The issue threatens to become one of the most contentious policy areas in the run-up to the general election.
Some ministers fear that every controversy about cuts to NHS services will be seen through the prism of Andrew Lansley’s reforms to the structure of the health service.Reuse content