Imran Hussain – 2022 Speech on Access to GP Services

The speech made by Imran Hussain, the Labour MP for Bradford East, in the House of Commons on 21 June 2022.

For many people living in Bradford, being unable to get an appointment with their GP for days or weeks, or being unable to see an NHS dentist at all, is one of the most depressing issues they face—if not the most depressing. Although such a scandal in our healthcare system is of course unacceptable anywhere, the harm that it is causing in Bradford, where we face especially stark health inequalities and where people are dying a decade earlier and facing a higher rate of preventable diseases, is particularly damaging.

It seems that the Government either do not understand or just do not care. Earlier, the Secretary of State opened for the Government. According to him, we have had record levels of investment, the Government are now planning many initiatives, and any concerns were entirely a result of the two years of covid. Of course, everybody in this Chamber would accept that the NHS, GPs, dentists and all the health services faced pressures during covid. I do not think anyone is denying that. The Secretary of State said to the shadow Minister, “You supported us during that period”. Of course we did. We were a responsible Opposition and of course we ensured that any pressures during a very difficult period could be alleviated. But to say that the issues have suddenly resulted from that period is simply untrue, and Ministers know that it is untrue.

The second assertion—those who were in the Chamber will recall that I pressed the Secretary of State about his record investment in the NHS—was that of course there was record investment, but let us look at that investment. Let me go to my district, to Bradford, and see the record investment that Ministers and the Secretary of State want to boast about. Frankly, they live in some parallel universe, because we do not see the effect that they come here and tell us about. In Bradford, one of the most deprived districts—more than 50% of the deprivation in my constituency is in all the top 10 deprivation indices—child poverty is now at a record high because of those on the Government Benches. Nearly 50% of children in my constituency today live in poverty because of the draconian, ideological cuts made by this Government over the past decade. I have said this in the Chamber many times: people who live in the inner cities are likely to live 10 years less than if they live in the leafy suburbs, which are far more affluent and, frankly, get more investment.

What does the record investment that the Secretary of State and Ministers tell us about equate to in Bradford terms? They tell us that, on average, we will get £4 per patient more than the rest of the country, even though we have the levels of deprivation, poverty and health inequalities that I have gone through. But actually the situation is worse, because even that £4 of investment that they tell us we are getting is fudged figures and smoke figures, because in real terms, if inflation was to be counted, we are getting £3 million less than we had before this Government came to power. On average, we have more than 2,800 patients per GP, whereas the national average is 2,100 patients per GP. If anywhere should be seeing this record investment, it should be in places such as Bradford, but are we seeing it? How does that equate? The hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper), who is no longer in her place, talked about the stark reality on the ground. This is why I say that Ministers are living in a parallel universe, because the stark reality on the ground is not as they see it. Most people simply cannot get GP appointments. People start ringing first thing in the morning and are on hold for hours on end. Many people will then have to wait until the next day. Getting through to a GP practice on the phone takes days on end.

Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)

When the Minister comes to her feet, I am sure she will say that X number of people have been able to access a GP, but have they been able to access their own GP? We have heard time and time again from health professionals how important continuity of care is. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not just about seeing any old GP—it is about someone seeing their own GP?

Imran Hussain

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes the point that I was coming on to raise. Her Luton constituency is not dissimilar to mine. With a single GP having 2,800 patients, it is obvious why those patients are not getting to see their GP. I could spend a long time in this Chamber going through constituency cases that I have recently dealt with. Indeed, I have done that in the past and those cases are on the record. Let me cite just one case today. An elderly lady in her 90s had to go to hospital and was then told to go to see her GP. Her son tried day after day to make a simple GP appointment for her. She had multiple health needs. My office had to intervene and even we were unable to secure a GP appointment for her. People are having to go through this ping-pong of not getting a GP appointment and then going to A&E as they have nowhere else to turn.

I am grateful because I did ask the Health Secretary about Bradford and urgent treatment centres, and he did favourably say that he would arrange a meeting with the Minister for Health, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), who joins us now, at precisely the right time. I look forward to that meeting because that is a way through and I am grateful for that offer. But the reality remains that the Government’s promise—or the points the Secretary of State made earlier today—is not apparent on the streets. People continue to suffer, they cannot get GP appointments and they have nowhere else to turn. That point has been made eloquently by a number of Members.

At least, after days and weeks of trying, people are able to get an appointment with a GP. Many Members have talking about issues with joining an NHS dentist. There is more chance of finding gold bricks on the street, or of finding the parallel universe that Government Ministers live in, than there is of getting on to the list of an NHS dentist. People simply cannot get NHS dentists, and we have heard accounts today of how they are being forced to carry out DIY operations at home, without anaesthetic or any medical care—I have come across such cases in my own constituency—because they have no other option. Frankly, as the fifth largest and richest economy in the world, it is shameful that people are having to resort to DIY treatment at home. Again, that is happening on this Government’s watch.

I have been in this place since 2015, and every time we have a debate about NHS dentists or GPs, Tory Members refer back to the Labour Government of 12 years ago. I remember that when I was growing up, under a Thatcher Government, GP practices were back-to-back houses on terraced rows without adequate facilities. The last Labour Government brought in record investment, gave us state-of-the-art health centres, and reduced health inequalities and child poverty. That was all under a Labour Government, but Tory Members cannot pretend that the Labour Government of 12 years ago are somehow responsible for the issues we face today. The Whips are not in their place, but I say to the Tory Whips, “Please do your Members justice and remove that line from the long-standing script you have for them”, because it is becoming embarrassing when Tory Members stand up and say, “12 years ago, there was a Labour Government, so it must be all their fault.” They can use that line for a year or two, but unfortunately, in nobody’s world can they use it for 12 years. Tory Members need to start understanding that.

Can we expect any more from this Government? This is a Government who believe people choose to be poor—they have said so in this very House and on TV. This is a Government who believe people should work extra hours and do more, and that those who are forced into poverty are not forced, but have chosen poverty. The reality is that this is a Government who could not care less about people in Bradford who continue to suffer. [Interruption.] The Minister chunters from the Front Bench; she will have time to address those points when she responds.

Maria Caulfield

I would be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s opinion on the position in Wales, which was set out in the Secretary of State’s opening remarks. Wales faces exactly the same pressures, and its waiting times are actually worse than England’s. What is the hon. Gentleman’s reason for why the Welsh Labour Government are in exactly the same position as this Government?

Imran Hussain

Again, the first defence is “Labour 12 years ago”; the second defence is “Labour in Wales”. The point about Labour in Wales has already been appropriately addressed, but the Minister’s job is to address those issues in England. Rather than address those issues, she thinks that saying “What about Labour in Wales?” somehow provides a cover, an umbrella, and a defence against the incompetence that exist across our health sector. That does not wash with the British public, because they have not been asleep for the past 12 years. They have noted the devastation that the Tory Government have caused in our communities, and the back-door privatisation and ideological agenda they have brought to our health service. I have said it before, and I will say it again: people will repay them with interest at the ballot box.