Thérèse Coffey, the health secretary, has said that she wants to improve capacity for care in the community and be ‘more ambitious’ than her two-week wait target for GPs has been so far.
Dr Thérèse Coffey’s new plan for patient access last month set out a range of measures to improve access to GP practices, including two-week GP appointment targets and the new publication of practice-level appointment data.
But speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham yesterday, the health secretary said that, while it was ‘perfectly reasonable’ for patients to expect to be seen in a fortnight, she now would ‘like to be more ambitious’.
Addressing the NHS backlog, Ms Coffey also said that additional beds were not the only solution to freeing up more space in hospitals.
‘Its not just capacity in our hospitals we need,’ she said. ‘It’s also in our communities, to help support people who could be cared for more appropriately at home or in a care home, rather than being kept in hospital, unnecessarily.’
Earlier this month, Ms Coffey set up a £500m fund to help discharge patients from hospitals into the community, this money would go to care homes and domiciliary care services.
It was not made clear if this would be new funding or would come out of the NHS’s existing budget.
The health secretary also claimed that her plan for the NHS, set out last month, would ’empower’ nurses and doctors by reducing bureaucracy.
Thérèse Coffey continued: ‘I think it is perfectly reasonable when people need to see a GP, they should expect to do so within a fortnight.
‘Of course, I would like to be more ambitious, and while I will not be prescriptive on how GPs interact with their patients, I am clear patients must be able to see their doctors promptly.’
She added: ‘To help achieve these priorities, I will publish a lot more information for patients so they can see how their local NHS is performing, including their GP practice, and on access to NHS care and treatment.’
The health secretary added that ‘too many’ patients do not have a good experience of getting a GP appointment.
Thérèse Coffey said: ‘Let’s be honest – while most patients receiving care in our NHS have a good experience, too many do not.
‘Whether it’s the 8am scramble to see a GP, or the long waits to get tests or treatment, or the struggle to see an NHS dentist at all.’
And Dr Coffey said that she wants to be ‘honest’ about the ‘scale of the challenge ahead of us’, saying the Government must ‘be prepared to hold the NHS to account’.
Speaking at his own party conference last week, the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that patients ‘deserve better than a two-week wait’ for GP appointments and a Labour Government would have ‘higher standards’.
Meanwhile, NHS England last week announced that it has deferred the incentive scheme target for GP networks to offer patients appointments within two weeks, in a bid to relieve practice workload over the winter.
A version of this article appeared in our sister publication Pulse.