HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 c656
5. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What assessment he has made of (a) the availability of and (b) access to general practitioner services in Greater London. [135973]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton)

The number of GPs, and the number of GPs in training, in London are currently at the highest recorded levels, helping more patients to be seen more quickly. Primary care trusts in London are also committed to further increases in the number of GPs and primary care professionals, which will help further to improve access to, and availability of, primary care services. Primary care in London will also benefit from £350 million-worth of capital investment in the next two years.

Simon Hughes

Is the Minister aware that a broad-ranging survey over the summer showed that more than one third of GP surgeries had closed their lists to new patients, and that more than half had closed their lists in the previous 12 months? As a result, thousands of people in London cannot get on to a GP list on a given day. What does the Minister propose to do to improve that situation substantially and quickly, and is there a target date—a number of days—by which somebody who wants to register on a GP's list can be sure that they will have a doctor to go to?

Mr. Hutton

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, my understanding was that his party was against new targets of any kind for the national health service; perhaps he needs to talk to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) about that. I accept that his first point constitutes a serious and genuine concern, but I should point out that existing arrangements do permit a primary care trust, in some circumstances, to allocate a patient, or group of patients, to practices. Although everyone accepts that that is not ideal, it is possible to get an appointment with a GP through that route if it is the last one available. Secondly, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the general medical services contract that we have concluded with the British Medical Association provides a new mechanism for dealing with precisely such issues, which I hope will prevent some of the situations that he describes from arising as frequently in future. I accept that, clearly, there are capacity constraints, and measures are in hand to deal with that. The arrangements under the new GMS contract will provide a further strengthening of those measures.