Daisy Cooper – 2022 Speech on Access to GP Services

The speech made by Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, in the House of Commons, on 21 June 2022.

The Conservatives have been running our health and social care system into the ground for years. Covid has made an already bad situation worse, but it was already bad, and my constituents—patients and healthcare professionals—can really feel it. A constituent who is a professional chauffeur needs to provide regular medical assessment certificates to keep his job, but his GP is not doing them right now, so my team have had to work hard to make sure that his employer will not sack him.

Some of my constituents have managed to see their GPs. One has had a referral for chronic back pain, another for a diagnosis of breast cancer that needs treatment, but having had those appointments they then discovered weeks later that the referral letters were never sent. Another constituent who had a contraceptive implant has had some very severe side effects and wants to have it removed, but she cannot get an appointment. A constituent who contacted her GP to say that she was having suicidal thoughts was asked to fill out a form.

I was so concerned about these reports that I have been to visit our GP surgeries in St Albans. From the other end of the spectrum, it is incredibly shocking. The very second the phone lines open in a GP surgery, there are flashing lights on its big screen. At one minute past the time that its phone lines open, there are hundreds and hundreds of calls on the electronic board. Many of those phone calls are from very distressed callers who are in pain and very concerned. Many of the people at the counter—the receptionists at the other end of the phone—are receiving verbal abuse, and we know that GPs are receiving abuse in their surgery rooms behind closed doors as well. The BMJ suggests that violent incidents in GP surgeries have doubled in the last five years.

One of the GP surgeries in my constituency has now employed somebody on a full- time basis to do one job: to chase the local hospitals to send the letters so that the GPs can get the results that their patients need. We have heard Members across the House talk this afternoon about how fantastic it would be if we could use big data and if our constituents could become expert patients and use all the information collected on their phone, but frankly, at the moment, we are starting from a basis where we cannot even get a letter from a hospital to a GP surgery. It feels as though the entire system is creaking at the seams, and that is even before we get to the postcode lottery of the number of patients each GP has, or the length of appointments.

Members across the House have talked about the planning system and the fact that lots of new homes are often built in areas without the infrastructure to go with them. I wholeheartedly sympathise with the calls for new homes, but it seems crazy in the circumstances that clinical commissioning groups are not even statutory consultees for planning applications, for local plans or even for permitted development. It should be a priority for this Government to change that and make sure that CCGs have the right resources to respond to planning proposals.

Then we have the problems with dentists. Like many other Members use, I have constituents who have raised these problems. I have mothers with MAT-B certificates who cannot get dental treatment. I have parents whose children are developing gum disease, but they cannot get an appointment with their dentist. I have couples who have moved to St Albans and, because they have moved, cannot get an appointment with the dentist. The list goes on and on.

I have challenged the Minister before about the Government’s announcement earlier this year that they were going to give £50 million to dentists to create some emergency catch-up appointments. When the Secretary of State was challenged on this earlier this afternoon, he said that that £50 million had resulted in tens of thousands of new appointments. That was news to me. Earlier this year, I submitted a number of written parliamentary questions. I asked the Government how many dental practices had achieved the quarter 3 targets to make them eligible for this £50 million. The answer was that the Government did not hold that information centrally. I asked the Government how many expressions of interest had been received by the deadline of 3 January. The answer was that the Government did not hold that information centrally. I then asked the Government how many of those who had offered to carry out this urgent dental practice had been accepted. Again, the Government said that they did not hold that information centrally. So what has happened to that £50 million? How much of it has been drawn down?

Maria Caulfield

The hon. Lady will know, because she raised this in oral questions, that dentists return that data in quarters. We will have that data from the dental community by the end of June, and we will then be able to answer her questions. She knows that; she is making a political point here.

Daisy Cooper

I am genuinely incredibly grateful for that answer, because when I challenged the Minister on this last week I did not receive that answer. I am grateful to receive that response. I submitted a letter to the Minister—I think it was in April—and attempted to come to some drop-in events that were cancelled, so I am pleased to hear that that data will be provided by the end of June. However, my constituents in St Albans have seen absolutely zero appointments created from that money. Every dental practice has said that because of the way the funds have been set up, it has been impossible for them to apply for them. A number of other Members have raised that point.

The truth is that the Government have failed to recruit the GPs that we need. We have a retirement time bomb among our general practitioners, and we know that dentists are leaving NHS work as well. We need to see a serious plan from the Government so that everybody who needs to see a GP or a dentist can actually see one.