Margaret Greenwood MP has called on the government to come forward urgently with a plan to fix the crisis in GP access and dentistry, saying that failure to do so has serious and painful implications for patients.
The Wirral West MP was speaking in a debate in the House of Commons this week.
In their 2019 election manifesto, the Conservatives pledged 6,000 more GPs in England by 2025. However, speaking last November at a meeting of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, Secretary of State Sajid Javid admitted: “I am not going to pretend that we are on track when clearly we are not.”
In her speech, Margaret Greenwood drew attention to a poll of nearly 1,400 GPs by the Rebuild General Practice campaign in March of this year which found that GPs are seeing, on average, 46 patients a day.
The safe maximum number of daily appointments, as recommended by the British Medical Association, is 25, and this prompted Ms Greenwood to argue in the debate that this is “bad for patients and unfair on very hard-working GPs.”
The MP for Wirral West also accused the Conservatives of “overseeing an exodus of dentists from the NHS, which is forcing people to choose between paying to go private or going without dental care at all.”
Research by the British Dental Association shows that around 3,000 dentists in England have stopped providing NHS services since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and that for every dentist quitting the NHS entirely, 10 are reducing their NHS commitment.
The British Dental Association said recently that “NHS dentistry is facing an existential threat and patients face a growing crisis in access, with the service hanging by a thread” and it has said that the government must “provide adequate levels of funding” and “not treat dentistry as an afterthought.”
Speaking after the debate, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “People are struggling to get GP and dentist appointments. This is a crisis of the government’s own making.
“As of April 2022, there were the equivalent of 1,622 fewer fully qualified, full-time GPs in England than in 2015.
“The shortage is reflected in the emails that I have received from Wirral West residents who are struggling to get a GP appointment or to see a dentist.
“People are frustrated and worried that they cannot get seen and have their symptoms diagnosed.
“The lack of access to GPs has implications for patient safety. We know early diagnosis is important, but it cannot happen if people cannot see a doctor.
“Doctors have made clear that they fear patient safety is being put at risk by factors such as staff shortages and too little time for appointments.’
“In addition to this, a number of people in Wirral West have told me that they have ended up going to A&E because they cannot get an appointment with their GP.
“This is understandable, but of course it puts more pressure on already over-stretched A&E services. It’s a situation that no patient wants to be in.
“In dentistry, 43 million NHS dental appointments have been lost since the start of the pandemic, creating an enormous backlog.
“One Wirral dentist told me that her practice has had people phoning from Lancashire and Manchester to see if they can register here because they can’t get provision in their own local area.
“People who are in desperate pain and need to see a dentist urgently need services to be available locally. No one wants a long journey in an emergency.
“The government is failing badly on access to GPs and dental treatment. It needs to bring forward a plan to address the crisis as a matter of urgency.”