Patients will be expected to get an appointment with their GP within two weeks under plans to be unveiled by the new health secretary on Thursday.
Therese Coffey will tell the Commons that patients with the most urgent needs should also be seen on the same day, as part of a drive to improve access to doctors’ appointments.
The government will not put an official target in place, and there will not be recourse for patients if practices don’t stick to the expectation placed on them.
But Ms Coffey will promise to help meet the timeframe through recruiting extra support staff, including GP assistants and advanced nurse practitioners, to enable GPs to focus on seeing patients – claiming the move will free up one million appointments a year.
Politics live updates: ‘Big questions’ remain over energy plan for businesses
New cloud-based telephone systems will also be installed to help people get through to surgeries more easily – something suggested by her predecessor, Steve Barclay.
The health secretary will tell MPs: “I will put a laser-like focus on the needs of patients, making their priorities my priorities and being a champion for them on the issues that affect them most.
“Our Plan for Patients will make it easier to get a general practice appointment and we will work tirelessly to deliver that, alongside supporting our hardworking GP teams.
“We know this winter will be tough and this is just the first step in our work to bolster our valued NHS and social care services so people can get the care they need.”
But Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, said the last Labour government “guaranteed a GP appointment within 48 hours until the Conservatives scrapped it”, adding: “The Conservatives promising to solve the difficulties patients face in getting a GP appointment is like the arsonists promising to put out the fire.”
He also criticised the government’s promises of a “digital revolution in the NHS”, saying: “NHS staff working flat out will have been hoping for something more advanced than the telephone to help them.”
As part of her plan, Ms Coffey will appeal to the public to take part in a “national endeavour” to support health and social care, urging volunteers who came forward during the COVID pandemic to offer up their services again.
She will also enable pharmacies to manage and supply contraception prescriptions, again freeing up space at surgeries, and will continue to push the message to people to go to pharmacies for minor illnesses or symptoms, such as coughs, headaches or sore throats.
Another part of the change will see the government introduce the publication of appointment data for each GP practice.
More detail will be outlined in Ms Coffey’s Commons statement, but it so far has the backing of NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard, who said: “We will work with the government so we can support NHS staff to deliver these new ambitions for patients, underpinned by the development of a long term workforce plan.”
However, The Royal College Of General Practitioners issued a fierce criticism of the proposals, saying it was “not a plan”. They said Ms Coffey should have talked to its member GPs on the front line to understand the challenges before ‘lumbering a struggling service with more expectations”.
Measures ‘won’t come close’ to helping
There is a shortage of over 4,000 full-time equivalent GPs, according to the NHS Confederation.
The organisation, which represents trusts across England and Wales, said it welcomes any support for the ‘workload and workforces crisis’ but added: “These measures will not come close to ensuring patients who need to be seen can be within the timescales set out. Also, they will have minimal impact on fixing the current problems that general practice is facing over the winter and could compromise continuity of care for those who need it.”
And Labour’s Mr Streeting said: “The Conservatives have failed to provide the doctors and nurses needed to treat patients on time, and patients are paying the price in record long waiting times.
“Unless the government brings forward a plan for the NHS staffing crisis tomorrow, they don’t have a plan for the NHS.”
New Prime Minister Liz Truss has said tackling problems within the NHS is one of the main priorities of her premiership.
And Ms Coffey, who has also been appointed deputy prime minister, promised to address the “A, B, C, D” of issues – namely ambulance delays, backlogs in hospitals, (social) care and doctor/dentist appointments.