GP surgeries

Some 600 fewer GP surgeries across England are open in the evening and at weekends compared to the time of the last election, new figures today show.

The figures underline the true scale of the Tory-led Government’s NHS crisis – with patients forced to turn to A&E as they struggle to secure a slot to see their doctor on the first working day after the Easter break, which saw doctors and NHS England express fresh concern about GP access and the resulting pressure on A&E departments.

David Cameron first promised seven-day opening for GP surgeries in the Conservative manifesto before the last general election in May 2010, but once in Government promptly cut back Labour’s scheme for evening and weekend GP opening.

Meanwhile, nearly two million more patients are unhappy with GP opening hours compared to three years ago as they lose access to evening and weekend appointments, according to new analysis of government statistics that flies in the face of repeated promises by David Cameron to support practices opening for seven days.

Labour today unveils its new poster on the NHS depicting a patient queue at a GP surgery and releases a full document on the declining GP services since 2010.

He repeated the pledge on last week’s ITV debate, claiming he wanted GPs to open “all the way through the week.”

However, Government figures show 590 fewer GP practices now able to offer patients appointments on weekday evenings, Saturdays or Sundays, compared with 2010.

Labour’s extended hours scheme enabled GP evening and weekend opening at 77 per cent of surgeries by July 2009. Yet, David Cameron cut the scheme’s funding from £3.01 to £1.90 for every registered patient and removed the 48-hour appointment guarantee from the NHS Constitution – labelling it “no longer a priority”.

The figures form part of a wider briefing on the Government’s primary care record, The Doctor can’t see you now, covering appointment delays, a growing GP recruitment crisis and Labour’s commitment to hundreds more GPs in every English region.

Labour’s plan to ensure better access to family doctors will see 8,000 more GPs recruited by 2020 and will help surgeries offer more convenient opening times. Based on the current distribution of GPs in England, it would mean significant increases in GP numbers in every region.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:

“Today, across the country, people will face the frustration of joining a queue to see their GP – in some places the lines will go out of the surgery door. After five years of David Cameron, patients at hundreds of surgeries can no longer get a GP appointment when they need one.

“At the last Election, he promised to open GP surgeries seven days a week but the reality is that millions more patients are unhappy with opening hours. It is now harder to get an appointment from Monday to Friday too.

“One of Cameron’s first acts as Prime Minister was to cut Labour’s extended opening hours scheme and scrap our guarantee of an appointment within 48 hours. If David Cameron gets back in, his extreme spending cuts mean he can’t protect the NHS and the queues outside GP surgeries will get even worse.

“The NHS needs Labour’s better plan for 8,000 more GPs, paid for with a £2.5 billion a year Time to Care fund, and guaranteed appointments within 48 hours.”


Notes to editors

1. Figures revealed in a Labour parliamentary question shows that the proportion of GP practices offering extended hours has fallen from 77% in 2009 to 72% in 2013/14 (the latest year for which figures are available) –5,794 surgeries in total, down from 6,384 in July 2009. This means 590 fewer GP surgeries open at evenings and weekends compared to Labour’s last year in office.

2. The fall in extended opening is reflected in NHS England’s annual GP-Patient survey of 900,000 patients. Analysis by the House of Commons Library reveals a significant and steadily growing trend in unhappiness with GP surgery opening hours between 2012, when the data on these questions was first collected, and the latest figures for 2015.

The proportion of people saying their GP surgery is not open at a convenient time has grown steadily from 15.69 per cent in 2012 to 19.05 per cent in 2015. This represents an increase of 1.9 million in the number of people saying their surgery is not open at convenient times since mid-2012 – from 8,393,162 to 10,261,435.

3. Labour has a better plan to improve GP access. We will recruit 8,000 more GPs by 2020 to ensure better access and help surgeries offer more convenient opening times. Based on the current distribution of GPs in England, Labour’s plans would mean significant increases in GP numbers in every region, as shown in the table below.
Region Number of extra GPs
East Midlands 600
East of England 900
London 1200
North East 500
North West 1100
South East 1400
South West 700
West Midlands 800
Yorkshire and the Humber 800

Numbers are rounded to the nearest hundred. London region covers the Health Education England regions of North West, North, Central and East, and South London, while South East region covers the Health Education England regions of Thames Valley, Wessex, and Kent, Surrey and Sussex
• Labour will also guarantee people GP appointments within 48 hours, or on the same day for those who need it. And on top of this, we will ensure people have the right to book further ahead with the GP of their choice.

• Helping people get quicker access to the help they need will be better for them and will also help relieve the pressure on A&E. Giving people the right to book ahead with the GP of their choice will help those patients whose priority is not speed but the ability to plan ahead and to see the same doctor.

• Labour’s plan to deliver 8,000 more GPs will play a key part in helping the NHS deliver this guarantee. But we know that General Practice is under enormous pressure, so we will also invest an extra £100 million in GP surgeries to support the delivery of these new standards, paid for through savings from scrapping David Cameron’s competition bureaucracy in the NHS.

• Over the longer term, ensuring better access to primary care can generate dramatic savings by alleviating pressure in A&E and reducing the need for more expensive hospital care. So this GP access guarantee is not only about improving healthcare, but is also a key part of our plan to ensure the NHS remains sustainable for the future.