Therese Coffey’s NHS rescue plan was accused today of being too targeted and ignoring the staff crisis.
The new health secretary announced an “ABCD” strategy in the House of Commons to tackle the crises plaguing ambulances, backlogs, care homes, doctors and dentists.
It includes an “expectation” that every patient will be offered a doctor’s appointment in two weeks and a £500million welfare package to free up 7,000 hospital beds.
Ms Coffey also pledged to meet the four-hour A&E wait target, which the NHS has not met since 2015 – despite studies showing it’s a lifesaver.
She also wants to hire 8,000 999 and 111 call attendants to speed up ambulance layoffs and open 31,000 more GP hotlines to end the phone lottery for appointments.
But Jeremy Hunt, one of her predecessors, criticized Ms Coffey’s plan from the back bench, saying: “It’s no longer about the needs of the NHS, it’s about more doctors.”
There are currently 160,000 vacancies in the NHS and the health service is short of at least 6,000 doctors.
Mr Hunt urged Ms Coffey to publish the NHS staff plan before Christmas so demoralized staff can “at least go into the winter knowing there is a plan for the future”.
But the current health secretary could not pin down a date. The Liberal Democrats called Ms Coffey’s plan an “A, B, C of failure”.
Therese Coffey, the new health secretary, announced an “ABCD” strategy in the House of Commons to fix the crises plaguing ambulances, backlogs, care homes, doctors and dentists
Almost half of GP appointments are made on the same day, but there are massive disparities across the country
Daisy Cooper MP said: “We were promised an extra 6,000 GPs by 2024, instead we lost almost 2,000.
“People are now struggling to get appointments because there just aren’t enough GPs, a new phone system can’t fix that.
“Even if patients manage to get an appointment, one in five is processed in less than five minutes.
“It’s all they have to give, but there’s nowhere near enough time to explain complex symptoms, get a reliable diagnosis, or discuss treatment options.
Therese Coffey reveals she was told to go home after waiting nine hours in the emergency room
Therese Coffey revealed today how she had to wait nine hours in the emergency room this summer just to be told to go home.
The Health Secretary’s own experience, told in the House of Commons, illustrates the scale of the NHS emergency supplies crisis.
Tens of thousands of Britons have to wait 12 hours every month for their victims.
dr Describing her own horrific A&E delay, Coffey told MPs she was treated quickly after visiting another nearby hospital the next day.
Her account came as she unveiled her NHS rescue plan, including her key pledge that patients will be able to see a GP within two weeks.
It comes after damning figures last week showed more than a million patients faced 12-hour waits in busy emergency rooms between April 2021 and March 2022.
NHS statistics showed the toll was three times higher than the same period last year.
It made last year the busiest ever in the ER as casualty units battled Covid as well as the knock-on effects of the pandemic and the day-to-day pressures.
The NHS says the current crisis is being driven by so-called ‘bed blockers’, which Dr. Coffey has also sworn.
Another of their immediate priorities is access issues with primary care physicians, which leading experts say are increasing pressure in the ER as patients resort to ERs because they cannot have their symptoms examined by a doctor.
“Patients are being forced to pay a dangerous price for years of chronic underfunding and broken Conservative promises.”
The King’s Fund said doctors were struggling with demand and “setting new expectations and goals will not suddenly increase capacity in general practice”.
Helen Buckingham, Director of Strategy at think tank Nuffield Trust, said: “The truth is that we are chronically short of GPs, with the number of GPs per person in England falling year on year.
“Doctors can no longer achieve goals.”
Ms Coffey promised a “laser-like” focus on tackling the NHS crisis as she unveiled her “plan for patients”.
She told the Commons: “My priorities are patients’ priorities. I will strive to improve care and meet public expectations through strong partnerships with the NHS and local authorities.
“Whether you live in a city, in the country or on the coast, this government will be by your side when you need help most.”
Her plan includes a requirement that patients be able to see how well their primary care practice compares to others.
It also gives them the opportunity to make an appointment at a less busy practice if their usual GP isn’t able to see them in two weeks.
Labor said the message Dr. Coffey conveyed to patients effectively amounted to “getting on your bike” and finding treatment elsewhere.
Under the new plan, the sickest patients will be offered a same-day doctor’s appointment and non-urgent cases should be treated within two weeks.
But these are only “expectations” and not fixed goals.
The health secretary said a range of staff – such as pharmacists, GP assistants and advanced nurse practitioners – are being deployed to take pressure off GPs and free up their time.
Ms Coffey will also change funding rules to allow practices to hire additional staff, allowing GPs to focus on care and freeing up 1 million additional appointments a year.
And pharmacies will be able to handle more prescription-free medicines, which could free up an additional 2 million doctor visits.
Ms Coffey also pledged her commitment to the four-hour A&E target of admitting, transferring or firing people.
According to current guidelines, 95 percent of patients should be admitted, transferred or discharged within 240 minutes.
The target has not been met since 2015 when there were four prime ministers.
Ms Coffey said she recently suffered an emergency room wait of almost nine hours, adding: “I can absolutely say that the target for a four hour emergency room wait is not going to change.
“I think it’s important, and I’m going to share a personal experience with you recently.
“It was only in July that I went to the emergency room, I waited almost nine hours myself to see a doctor and I still didn’t get any treatment.
“I was asked to come back the next day so I went to another hospital just three miles away and I was examined and treated appropriately.
“That’s the kind of variation we’re seeing across the NHS.”
On waiting times for ambulances, Ms Coffey said there was “too much disparity in access and the care that people are receiving across the country”.
She said 45 per cent of delays in ambulance handovers occur in 15 NHS hospital trusts.
A shortage of social care staff has led to a backlog in hospitals because elderly patients cannot be discharged to nursing homes.
Ms Coffey pledged to create the equivalent of 7,000 more beds in the hardest-hit trusts this winter to speed up handover times.
Ms Coffey said a £500million fund would allow medically healthy people to be discharged from hospital more quickly and support them to receive care in the community or in their own home instead.
And hospitals are being encouraged to monitor patients from their homes with mobile apps and devices that measure blood pressure and other vital signs.
Meanwhile, call handlers will also be boosted from 999 and NHS 111 to answer calls faster.
Ms Coffey said the NHS “needs a real national effort” and added she wanted to draw on the “energy and enthusiasm” of the 1million people who have volunteered during the pandemic.
Mr Hunt broadly “welcomed” their plan but criticized the decision to add more targets to the workload of GPs.
He said: “When it comes to the staffing plan, which she has again committed to – and I applaud her commitment to making it public – she could tell the House there will be hard numbers so we know how many doctors we have will need in 10? 15, 20 years, and do we actually train them?
“Will she release it before Christmas so staff can at least head into the winter knowing there’s a plan for the future?”
Ms Coffey replied: “I would now like to reassure him that I have spent time focusing on the priority plan, the staff plan is already being worked on and I hope to create elements today and work with my new team of ministers so that we can do that maximize.’
She added the government plans to “make it easier for people, wherever they are in the world” to practice medicine in England.