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Real- terms cuts to the NHS budget could pay for all GP appointments in England for nearly ten weeks, according to the Liberal Democrats.

Quoting latest figures from the Office of Budget Responsibility it says these show that while the NHS budget is increasing in cash terms, when inflation is taken into account there is a real-terms planned decrease of £1.3 billion next year (2024-25) – on top of a £3.5 billion real-terms cut this year (2023-24).

With a standard GP appointment estimated to cost £41, the cash the Government has cut could pay for nearly 32 million appointments, or ten weeks’ worth based on November’s appointment number figures.

The party claims official NHS data reveals that in November 2023, 5.4m GP appointments took place two weeks or more after being booked, and those that took place over 28 days after being booked rose by 150,000, to 1.5m from November 2022 to November 2023.

A previous poll commissioned by the Liberal Democrats found 21% of those who tried and failed to secure a GP appointment in the last year had purchased prescription medicine for themselves without advice from a GP and 14% carried out medical treatment on themselves or asked somebody who is not a medical professional to do so.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a new legal right for patients to see a GP within seven days or within 24 hours if in urgent need. Its recruitment plan to recruit and retain 8,000 more GPs envisages increasing training places for GPs, and launching a retention drive to encourage those who have left the NHS to return.

Liberal Democrat health and social care spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said: ‘This Conservative government’s stealth NHS cuts are already having a huge impact on frontline services. GP appointments are vital to tackle conditions at an early stage, yet millions of people are struggling to see a doctor when they need to.

It is utterly shameful that in 2024 we are seeing instances of DIY medicine in the UK because people can’t see a GP – and it is the Government’s shambolic management of the NHS that is to blame. Rishi Sunak needs to stop neglecting our health service, start recruiting the extra GPs we were promised and cancel his real terms cut to NHS funding.’

Prof Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, responded: ‘This analysis shows just how cost-effective general practice is, but with mounting workloads and a GP workforce smaller than it was five years ago, it needs support more than ever. GPs and our teams had their busiest November on record last year, delivering more than 31m appointments – a 30% increase on 2019, yet with 642 fewer fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs. This simply isn’t sustainable, and it’s our patients who feel the brunt the most.

‘Investing in general practice alleviates pressure across the NHS, including in emergency departments. So, it is deeply frustrating to see this analysis show real terms cuts to funding at a time when there is so much strain on our service. The average number of patients per GP in England is now an eye watering 2,290. While we’re doing all we can, we share our patients’ frustration when they can’t get the safe, timely and appropriate care they need.’

13 FEBRUARY 2024

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