The number of GP surgeries across England that are open in the evening and at weekends has fallen by 600 since the last election, Labour claimed last night, as it unveiled a new poster to highlight long NHS waiting times.
Parodying the famous 1979 Tory election poster showing a long queue of people waiting outside a job centre, the Labour ad shows a similar queue waiting to get into a GP surgery.
The party said that research showed nearly two million more patients are unhappy with GP opening hours compared with three years ago as they lost access to evening and weekend appointments. It said the Government’s own figures showed 590 fewer GP practices now able to offer patients appointments on weekday evenings, Saturdays or Sundays, compared with 2010.
Labour’s access figures were rejected by the Tories, who pointed out that the numbers were a year out of date and did not take into account the party’s GP access fund – which was helping millions of patients see their doctors outside normal office hours.
“Labour’s figures are wrong,” Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said. “The Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund already covers 1,100 practices and helps 7.5 million patients see a GP in the evenings and at weekends. We are extending this scheme to cover over 1,400 additional practices, helping 10 million extra people by this time next year.”
But Labour claimed the figures underlined the “true scale of the NHS crisis” with patients forced to turn to A&E.
“At the last election, David Cameron promised to open GP surgeries seven days a week but the reality is that millions more patients are unhappy,” Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary, said. “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.”
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