HC Deb 25 January 1994 vol 236 cc149-51
5. Mr. Evennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what was the average number of patients on each family doctor's list (a) in 1979 and (b) in the latest year for which figures are available.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

At 1 October 1979, the average number of patients on family doctors' lists in England was 2,286; the figure for 1 April 1993 is 1,915, a reduction of 16 per cent.

Mr. Evennett

I thank my right hon. Friend for those excellent figures. Does she agree that the family doctor service is the backbone of our national health system? Will she confirm that today there are more GPs, they are better paid, there are more practice nurses and there is far more effective treatment? Will she join me in urging the Labour party to look at the family doctor system to see how it is working so effectively for the benefit of all the patients in the national health system?

Mrs. Bottomley

Indeed. My hon. Friend rightly identifies the family doctor service as the basic building block of our NHS. One of its distinguishing features is as gatekeeper to the NHS. The average person goes to his or her GP five times a year. That is why it is important that there are an extra 4,759 GPs. That is why it is so important that the number of practice nurses has increased by 819 per cent. since the Government came to power, and that family doctor service spending has increased by 151 per cent. Those are substantial figures, resulting in very much better care for patients.

Ms Primarolo

Has the Secretary of State had time to study the parliamentary answer she gave me about the decline in the number of GPs in London over the past three years? Does she share my surprise and anger that that should have occurred at a time when GP services in London are under such massive stress and demand? Does she agree that the increased use of accident and emergency units is partly a by-product of that decline, and immediately agree to investigate the reports from those departments that 8 to 14 per cent. of patients attending accident and emergency units are not registered with a GP in London?

Mrs. Bottomley

I am beginning to see a glimmer of hope that the hon. Lady might be supporting "Making London Better" and the strategy that we set out. It is precisely that distortion of resources in London, which has gone back over many years, that means that urgent action is necessary. There have been far more older GPs in London. There have been far more single-handed practitioners in London. Although, over the past 10 years, there has been a substantial improvement in GP services in London, there is still room for manoeuvre. That is why we are spending an extra £43 million in primary care in London this year, investing it in more than 100 primary care initiatives.

Mr. Oppenheim

Will my right hon. Friend cast her mind back to when the GPs' contract was being introduced? At that time, were not the sick and the vulnerable unnecessarily frightened by a campaign that stated that GPs' lists would dramatically increase and that doctors would not have enough time to look after their patients? As that scare campaign has proved totally untrue, how seriously can we take any pronouncements on the NHS from the Labour party, which was prepared to use the sick and the vulnerable as pawns and puppets in its own sick political campaign?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend rightly identifies the Labour party's history of making scaremongering statements, having no policy and denying the results, which have been extremely impressive. For example, the latest immunisation figures, part of the new GP contract, show that 95 per cent. of children are now being immunised against diphtheria, compared with 80 per cent. when the Labour party was in power; 93 per cent. for measles compared with 51 per cent. when the Labour party was in power, and 93 per cent. of whooping cough compared with 35 per cent. when the Labour party was in power. Those are the results of the changes, quite apart from the introduction of deprivation payments which mean that GPs in the most deprived inner-city areas receive additional resources.

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