Every NHS patient in England will be guaranteed access to a GP seven days a week by 2020 if Conservatives win power in next year’s election, David Cameron has said.
The Prime Minister also announced a £100 million investment in improving access to family doctors, ensuring that more people will be able to see their GP between 8am and 8pm on weekdays and weekends.
And he unveiled plans to bring back named GPs with responsibility for individual patients – scrapped by the previous Labour government – as part of a new GP contract being launched by NHS Employers.
The announcements came at the Conservative conference in Birmingham, where Chancellor George Osborne yesterday claimed that Tories, and not Labour, were “the real party of the NHS”.
The PM last year established a Challenge Fund for GP access, which has already allocated a total of £50 million to 20 health groups, covering more than 7.5 million patients. In the second wave, practices around the country will be invited to bid for awards from the additional £100 million fund for 2015/16.
The commitment to seven-day GP cover for all patients will cost an estimated further £400 million over five years following the 2015 general election.
Mr Cameron said: “People need to be able to see their GP at a time that suits them and their family. That’s why we will make sure everyone can see a GP seven days a week.
“We will also support thousands more GP practices to stay open longer, giving millions of patients better access to their doctor.
“This is only possible because we’ve taken difficult decisions to reduce inefficient and ineffective spending elsewhere as part of our long-term economic plan. You can’t fund the NHS if you don’t have a healthy, growing economy.
“This will help secure a better future for Britain, where people can be confident that when they or their loved ones need it, our NHS will be there for them.”
Conference was hearing speeches today from Home Secretary Theresa May, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. But the Cabinet ministers were expected to be overshadowed by an address from cloud-pleasing Mayor of London and would-be MP Boris Johnson.
Mr Osborne yesterday urged activists to “choose the future” in an austere address which spelt out plans to cut £3.2 billion off the welfare bill by freezing working-age benefits for two years, further restrain public sector pay and crack down on tax avoidance by multinational companies.
The TUC accused the Chancellor of putting low-income working families “in the front line” of the deficit reduction struggle by targeting 10 million households with a freeze that will affect child benefit, jobseekers’ allowance and tax credits, while Labour said he had shown the Tories “are the party of a privileged few at the top.”
But Mr Osborne said it was unfair and unsustainable that increases in state support had outstripped pay rises since the start of the recession. The two-year 0% uprating would bring welfare increases in line with pay rises over the decade 2007-17, said aides.
Pensioner and disability benefits will be excluded from the freeze, as will maternity and paternity pay.
“This is the choice that Britain needs to take to protect our economic stability and to secure a better future,” said the Chancellor. “The fairest way to reduce welfare bills is to make sure that benefits are not rising faster than the wages of the taxpayers who are paying for them.”
The Treasury said a one-earner couple with two children and a household income of £25,000 would lose £25 a year in child benefit and £420 in tax credits because benefits will not be upgraded in line with inflation, while a two-earner couple with one child and both adults earning £13,000 would lose £44 in child benefit and £310 in tax credits.
But Mr Osborne’s aides said the financial loss for most families would be more than outweighed by the increases in personal tax allowances introduced over recent years.
The chief executive of one-parent charity Gingerbread, Fiona Weir, said the changes meant “some of the poorest in society bear the brunt of cuts”, while Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said it was “bad news for working parents struggling on low wages, already coping with rising living costs and previous benefit cuts”.
Mr Grayling will tell the conference that he is determined to deal with prisoners’ mental health amid claims overcrowding is contributing to the highest jail suicide rate for a decade.
“Too many people self-harm, too many take their own lives, and more often than not mental health is a key part of the problem,” he will say.
“We already work closely with the NHS to provide support and treatment across the prison estate.
“But I think it is time to step up our response to the challenge. We need to get to a point where we have specialist centres in our prison system where we can concentrate our best mental health expertise.”
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “David Cameron made an almost identical announcement this time last year but, in the 12 months since, he has made it harder, not easier, to get a GP appointment.
“After the election, David Cameron scrapped Labour’s GP appointment guarantee and cut support for evening and weekend opening. His broken promises on the NHS have caught up with him.
“Labour has a plan for extra funding for the NHS and commitment to recruit 8,000 more GPs.
“Under David Cameron, it has got harder and harder to get a GP appointment. People are left ringing the surgery early in the morning only to be told nothing is available for days.
“The next Labour government will guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours or a same-day consultation with a doctor or nurse for those who need it.”
Mr Cameron said there was no “fundamental difference” between the Tories and Ukip as he set out how he hoped to win back former backers wooed by Nigel Farage’s eurosceptic party.
The conference has been dominated by the fallout of the defection of a second Tory MP – Mark Reckless – to Ukip, forcing Mr Cameron to fight another by-election.
“I have a double battle here,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
“I have a direct fight against Labour, which is about growing our economy, dealing with our deficit, taking on the problems.
“But I also have to win back the people who have left my party, who are concerned and worried about the pressures in our modern world and I have got to reassure them that I absolutely do get the problems of uncontrolled immigration, I do want to change our relationship with Europe, I want to build a sense of national pride, that this country can be a success again in this modern world.”
The Prime Minister went on: “Those divisions on the right are more about reassurance and understanding and going back to your values and what makes you tick, rather than a fundamental difference which is what we have with Labour.”