On Friday I turned my attention again to the GP service. I have been working on this issue most of this Parliament, as there has been an increase in the number of complaints from people unable to obtain a timely appointment to see the doctor. There have also been requests from doctors themselves for assistance with more money and support to enable them to expand their practices and meet the extra demand. I went to see a local surgery and heard of problems again in my own MP surgery.
I have been sympathetic and have taken these matters up with the government, as have other MPs. I was pleased this week to hear from the Health Secretary that considerably more money will be made available to the GP service over the next five years. Spending on GPs will now rise from £9.6bn this year to more than £12bn by 2020-21. This is estimated to be a 14% rise above inflation, and will take the GP service to a 10% share of the NHS budget. This year funding increases by £322 m or 4.4%.
On top of this money will come a £500m national sustainability and transformation package to support GPs. There are three smaller specialist funds totalling £112 m to help struggling practices and doctors under pressure. There will be measures and money to increase the numbers of GPs , adding more pharmacists to the service, helping train and encouraging back to work more practice nurses, and training new physician assistants. There will also be a substantial £900 million capital investment programme.
It is quite clear there is a substantial increase in demand and workload. Some comes from a rising population. I n Wokingham substantial new housing development brings with it an obvious need for more surgery capacity. Nationally controlling migrant numbers better will make a contribution to managing increases in demand, which will be much easier to achieve if we leave the EU. Some of the increase in demand comes from people living longer, as the frail very elderly need more treatment. This is a good development which just needs more medical care to be available. Some of the demand increase comes from rising expectations of what doctors can achieve and help with. Locally I was told the average patient on a GP list has six consultations a year, with some users asking for as many as 50. Some need the appointments, but some are the worried well or could be treated by the practice nurse or pharmacist. GP practices are encouraged to experiment with new ways of assessing patient need and booking the right appointment with the right person promptly.
I have taken up the question of planning for more GP service with the Borough Council and Health and Wellbeing Board, stressing the need to keep up with expanding demand by allowing and encouraging the expansion of our GP services. GP practices are of course private sector businesses with capital and buildings provided by the doctor partners. They act for the NHS and receive most of their revenue form the government so they can provide most of their services free at the point of use. It is important that the contract and payments system is seen by doctors to be fair, so they do expand their practices to meet the demand.