Labour has highlighted NHS figures, claiming they demonstrate a decline in GP services under the Conservatives
This is an edited version of an article first published by the BBC.
The figures show that, out of 31 million GP appointments in October, six million required patients to wait more than two weeks.
Labour said it was ‘yet more damning evidence of the crisis our NHS is in after a decade of Tory cuts’.
The Tories responded by highlighting their plans to deliver 50 million more GP appointments by 2024-25 if elected.
The NHS Digital figures do not distinguish between those patients who were content to wait for a more routine meeting at their local surgery and those who wanted a more immediate appointment and could not get one.
The latest data from NHS Digital show that 2.45 million patients waited between 15 and 21 days in October to see a GP or other practice clinician, which was 8.3% of the total number of appointments, compared with 8% in October 2018.
Another 1.69 million waited between 22 and 28 days for a GP appointment while 1.66 million waited more than 28 days.
In both cases there was an increase in the percentage of patients affected compared to October last year.
The overall number of appointments increased to 30.8 million in October 2019 from 29.7 million in the same month the year before.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “More families are struggling to get a GP appointment after the Tories have allowed the numbers of family’s doctors in our communities to fall.”
He said Labour had a £40bn rescue plan to invest in general practice which would see more doctors recruited and provide millions more GP appointments.
Labour also quoted new figures on the GP workforce in England which show that the number of fully qualified doctors in general practice had fallen by more than 1,600 since September 2015 to just under 27,000 in September this year.
The Conservative government had promised in 2015 to add 5,000 GPs by 2020.
However, the Tories refer to a different measure which includes qualified doctors training to be GPs – this group has increased by about 400 since September 2015.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It’s great news that we’ve seen an increase in the number of GPs, and that more people are getting a GP appointment the same or next day.
“A Conservative majority government will create 6,000 more GPs and deliver 50 million more GP appointments – to make sure everyone can get the care and treatment they need faster.”
Labour has pledged, if elected, to increase the number of GP training places in England from 3,500 to 5,000 a year.
The Conservatives say they would raise training places to 4,000 and recruit more GPs from abroad along with measures to boost retention.
The Liberal Democrats say they first identified on Thursday – from the NHS’ own figures – that the number of GP practices has fallen to a record low.
The party accused the Conservatives of failing to keep their promises on GP numbers.
It wants to end the GP shortfall within five years, with more training and what they say will be easier foreign recruitment if the UK stays in the EU.