Across Burnley and Padiham, we are served by some amazing GP surgeries. However, one of the issues that has now become a recurring theme is the struggle that many residents in the borough are having in getting a face-to-face appointment with their GP at the moment. And I count myself in that cohort too.
But the importance of being able to see your GP in person cannot be understated. Whilst we can all understand why, during the height of the pandemic, GPs could not provide access in the normal way, now that life is starting to return almost completely back to normal, we should be seeing the same thing happening in our GP surgeries too. Because although telephone consultations can prove quick and convenient for some, particularly when it is for a repeat prescription or something similar, it is not always enough. Physical examinations of symptoms can’t be done over the phone, or zoom, and that means patients waiting longer to have real health concerns diagnosed.
I know that this is not an issue faced by all residents, with some surgeries back to normal operating. But for too many it is an issue. That’s why I have raised this in Parliament on multiple occasions, with Ministers bilaterally, and it came up again in the Commons this week.
The Secretary of State for Health, I know, shares the frustration and during Tuesday’s debate he outlined what work was taking place to rectify the issue, working with the British Medical Association and the NHS. We all recognise the backlog of healthcare needs that has built up. The most tangible example of that is waiting times for elective surgery like cataracts and hip replacements; but it also affects GPs too. With patients staying away, healthcare issues have become more complex, requiring longer appointments, and so they need some support too.
That is what the extra £36 billion of catch-up funding for the NHS is designed to support. It isn’t there for normal, on-going, in-year costs like the rest of the budget but is set aside to support the measures that will help reduce the backlog. That will include investments in more advanced diagnostic equipment; facilities for surgery; cancer care and treatments; and much more.
This week there was a very difficult choice to be made over that funding. Either to provide it, in a costed and financially responsible way, or to turn to the NHS and say they must manage within existing budget constraints. That would mean asking hospitals and GP surgeries not just to go back to operating as normal, but also to manage the ongoing impact of Covid and reduce the backlog built up by the pandemic without a single extra penny of support.
Knowing the impact of missed treatments and diagnosis on local residents, I could not envisage the latter of these. What we need locally is to improve our healthcare outcomes; to invest in Burnley General Hospital and our GPs; and to get those who need it, the treatments they need.
However, without getting our GP surgeries open, offering face-to-face appointments, that task will be made ever more difficult. GPs are the first port of call for medical concerns and whilst they restrict access, medical diagnosis will continue to suffer, and our Urgent Care Centre, and A&E, will continue to see high numbers of visitors as they have over the summer. That is why it is so important they re-open and it’s what I continue to push with the Health Secretary.