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RCGP warn Lib Dems that new mandates for GPs will only ‘pile on the pressure’

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to improve NHS frontline services and create a healthcare system in which everyone can access appointments and treatment they so desperately need.

© UK Parliament

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to improve NHS frontline services and create a healthcare system in which everyone can access appointments and treatment they desperately need.

The party says the Conservatives have “plunged the NHS into crisis”, running local health services into the ground, putting people, buildings and beds “under immense pressure”.

The party has committed to several significant health policies over the past few weeks, including allowing some patients to have access to a ‘named doctor’, funding emergency and ambulance services, and rolling out new fully staffed beds.

Research highlights how a lack of hospital beds and GPs are affecting patients

To support their calls for urgent policy changes, the Liberal Democrats have published several pieces of research which reveal increasing waiting times for NHS care and declining patient satisfaction with NHS services.

One piece of research shows that last year, around 145,800 patients waited for 12 hours or more in A&E corridors before being admitted to a hospital ward, with roughly two thirds of these patients aged 65 or over.

Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests shows that this has increased 25-fold since 2019. However, the Liberal Democrats only received responses from 48 of 140 NHS hospital trusts, meaning the true numbers are likely to be far higher.

Research by the party also shows that hundreds of thousands of people with urgent care needs are transporting themselves to hospital due to a lack of ambulances.

NHS data shows that 504,276 people in need of “very urgent emergency care” made their own way to A&E in England during 2023, with around 20% of these patients aged 65 or older. This is up from 362,931 (an increase of 39%) in 2019. Again, this figure is likely to be much higher considering only 53 out of 140 NHS trusts provided data.

In addition, a poll of 2,339 patients showed that only half of patients (52%) ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ see the same GP. In total, roughly three in 10 (29%) said they ‘rarely’ saw the same doctor and 18% ‘never’ saw the same one, rising to 27% of those aged 65 and over. This is despite research showing that seeing the same GP helps older patients avoid hospital admissions and improves the quality of treatment.

Lib Dems plan to clear the NHS backlog and reform social care

Responding to the findings, Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, said the Conservative government has created an ‘Uber ambulance crisis’.

“We urgently need investment in our emergency services and more beds in our hospitals, so that patients in urgent need know that an ambulance will arrive in time,” she said.

As well as more investment, the Liberal Democrats also call for a roll out of new fully staffed beds into hospitals to help clear backlogs and reduce trolley wait times. The party is also calling for a comprehensive package of social care reforms to ensure people are not stuck in hospital longer than they need to be.

To improve the situation in primary care, the Lib Dems say they would introduce a new policy which would enable all patients over the age of 70 and those with long-term physical or mental health conditions to have access to a named doctor. The policy would cover around 19 million people.

Party leader Sir Ed Davey described the lack of family doctors as a “scandal” which has left older people unable to receive “the care they need”.

NHS leaders want to see more investment but warn new mandates could add fuel to the fire

NHS leaders say patients being held in ambulances or treated in corridors represent a standard of care that “none of [their] members want to be offering.”

Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s Acute Network, said: “This data is yet more evidence of the immense pressure that the urgent and emergency care system is under, following a decade of underinvestment in NHS capital, estate, workforce and social care.

“We cannot let long response times and handover delays become the new normal.”

However, the Royal College of GPs says it isn’t always necessary for a patient to see the same GP, or even a GP, for every appointment.

“We would be very cautious about introducing arbitrary mandates for practices to ensure this happens. This would simply pile on pressure to an already struggling service, and be fraught with potential difficulties and unintended consequences,” said RCGP Chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne.

“Our general election manifesto outlines seven solutions – including funding for recruitment and retention initiatives – to ensure that there are enough GPs to safeguard the future of general practice, and have the time they need to spend with patients. This is the only real route to improving our patients’ access to safe, timely and appropriate GP care – and all political parties need to take heed,” she added.

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