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GP funding cut in real terms as appointment waits climb – Lib Dems

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said seeing a GP should be ‘should be the very cornerstone of the NHS’ (PA)
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said seeing a GP should be ‘should be the very cornerstone of the NHS’ (PA)

Funding for GP practices has been slashed – with patients now facing longer wait for appointments, according to analysis by the Liberal Democrats.

Experts warned that cuts in primary care “adversely impact” deprived communities and more investment is needed to safeguard the future of general practice.

House of Commons Library research commissioned by the Lib Dems found funding for GP practices had been cut by £350 million in real terms since 2019.

The party claims investment in practices for 2022/23 was 6.9% down on 2018/19, taking inflation into account.

Average funding per patient was £165, down £12 over the last four years.

Analysis by the Lib Dems also found 1.5 million GP appointments in November took place four weeks or more after being booked.

This equated to one in 20, or 4.8%, of appointments for the month.

Sir Ed Davey visit to Stockport
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey (James Manning/PA)

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “It is unforgivable that the Conservative government has slashed funding for GP practices at a time of rising demand. Millions of people are being left anxious or waiting in pain because they can’t get an appointment with their GP.

“The Conservative Party’s record on the NHS is one of total neglect and failure. Rishi Sunak is completely out of touch with patients struggling to get the care they need.

“Being able to see your GP when you need to should be the very cornerstone of the NHS. That is why the Liberal Democrats would give people a legal right to see their GP within seven days or 24-hours if in urgent need.”

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: “General practice is the bedrock of the NHS, and investing in it leads both to better health outcomes for patients and delivers amazing value to the NHS.

“We now know that for every £1 invested in primary care, at least £14 is delivered in productivity across the working community – so it makes absolutely no sense that spending on general practice is falling in real terms.”

Prof Hawthorne added that increasing investment is one of the “key asks” of the RCGP manifesto, which she urged political parties “to take heed of” ahead of the next general election.

“It outlines seven solutions – including appropriate resource allocation for recruitment and retention – that will help improve patient access to safe and timely care, ensure there is capacity to offer continuity of care, and that there are enough GPs to safeguard the future of general practice and the wider NHS.

“As more and more services are relocated to primary care settings, resources must follow patient care. Decision makers must recognise that demand for general practice is only going to intensify in coming years.”

Prof Hawthorne warned that “funding cuts in primary care adversely impact communities with higher rates of deprivation, worsening the situation for some of our most vulnerable patients”.

She added: “Across the NHS, we have seen health inequalities worsen over the past decade, and this has been felt even more so in recent years due to the cost-of-living crisis – a college survey found that 73% of GPs have seen an increase in patients presenting with conditions linked to poverty.”

Prof Hawthorne called November the “busiest on record” or GPs, who delivered more than 31 million appointments. The average number of patients per GP in England is now 2,290, she added.

“If, as the major political parties say, they want much more healthcare delivered in the community, including preventative care, this must be properly resourced to be successful,” she said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving access to GPs, and we are now delivering 50 million more GP appointments per year.

“The most recent data shows GP funding increased in real terms by 19% between 2017 and 2022, and our Primary Care Recovery Plan is investing £645 million to expand pharmaceutical services and take pressure off general practice.

“We are also investing £240 million on digital tools, telephony and training to ensure GP surgeries have what they need to improve access for patients.”