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How would a Labour government fix the NHS?

The New Statesman, 13th October 2023

Wes Streeting, Preet Kaur Gill, Andrew Gwynne, Abena Oppong-Asare and Karin Smyth on creating a health service that is fit for the future.

Preet Kaur Gill, shadow minister for primary care and public health

As shadow minister for primary care and public health, I want to engage with and learn from GPs, pharmacists and dentists – the front door of our health service – to build an NHS fit for the future.

After 75 years, the front door to the NHS is suffering because primary care is overwhelmed and inaccessible. I saw first-hand the brilliant work that the primary-care sector does during my time as a social worker and in my role as cabinet member for public health and protection at Sandwell Council. Yet, after 13 years of Tory incompetence, GPs are majorly overstretched because there simply aren’t enough of them: the Conservatives have cut 2,000 GPs since 2015. As a result, more than a quarter of patients describe their experience of booking a GP appointment as “poor”, and fewer than half of patients get an appointment at the time they wanted or sooner, according to this year’s GP Patient Survey.

This crisis in primary care is not incurable. Labour will reform primary care by shoring up community services while reducing the burden on hospitals.

Labour will improve GP access by training more GPs to take the pressure off those currently working in the system. We will also guarantee face-to-face GP appointments for all who want them, and bring back the family doctor so that patients can see a regular clinician if they prefer or need to.

We also know patients want new and more varied opportunities to access the healthcare they need. There are pockets of great practice across the country that we should be building on: for instance, in the Jaunty Springs Medical Centre in Sheffield, a shared care agreement between the pharmacy and GP surgery means a majority of health interventions can be delivered in the pharmacy consultation room, freeing up the GP and cutting waiting times. Labour will further expand the role of community pharmacy, accelerating the roll out of independent prescription to establish a Community Pharmacist Prescribing Service, covering a broad range of common conditions. Labour will ensure pharmacists can work to the top of their licence and focus on their expertise in prescribing and medicines management.

Labour will also encourage integrated care systems to identify opportunities, to join up services, including by co-locating them on a single site where existing capacity allows. This will reform healthcare for those who have more than one condition, providing them with one point of contact for appointments, with a range of professionals and services, including their family doctor, carer, district nurse or mental health specialist.

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