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Too many GP appointments taking place over the phone

Earlier this month, I visited St Luke’s Hospital to learn more about the brilliant work of the NHS Virtual Wards, where patients can access the care they need from home, safely and conveniently. Many of my constituents receive excellent care this way and it was a vital opportunity to thank the team who work diligently, day in day out to keep our loved ones safe. Virtual Wards demonstrate the best of technology integration into NHS care using remote monitoring apps, wearable medical devices and pulse oximeters combined with vital face-to-face care to ensure people are getting the medical care they need.

This is in stark contrast to the concerns that some constituents and clinicians have recently raised with me that many GPs are still marking on patient medical notes “telephone consultation during Covid-19” – even if those consultations only happened in the last few weeks. This echoes the many emails, letters and calls I receive from my constituents, frustrated they still cannot get a GP appointment and, when they finally can, are told it will be over the phone. I’ve been told about a newborn baby who was diagnosed, time and time again over the phone only to end up in A&E after vomiting up blood. I’ve been told about a pensioner prescribed anti-biotics three times via a telephone consultation with a GP only to end up in A&E with heart failure.

GP practices are the bedrock of the NHS but the pressures they face pre-date Covid, with rising demand, declining GP numbers and underinvestment. It is unacceptable that vulnerable and elderly people are left with irregular phone check-ups, often leaving them at risk of misdiagnosis or a missed diagnosis. That’s why I raised this issue with the new Health Secretary in the House of Commons last week. In May this year, 350,000 of the 1.3 million doctors’ appointments in West Yorkshire were conducted over the phone. This means that months after all restrictions were lifted, over a quarter of appointments were still taking place over the phone, compared with just one in ten before the pandemic. These appointments have their place and can be a useful tool. However, they should be the exception and the patient’s choice, not the norm.

And these issues are all just part of wider Conservative failure. In the PM's final Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Boris Johnson bragged that his mission in office has been ‘largely accomplished’. Yet, as of May this year, there were still 6.6 million people on NHS waiting lists, facing an almost 13-week wait time for medical treatment. Of these, almost half a million will have to wait over a year. The situation is so bad that some patients have taken out personal loans to get the treatments they need privately because of how long they have to wait on the NHS.

On top of that, we face the biggest cost of living crisis in memory. Inflation is at almost double figures, energy costs are through the roof, and fuel is almost £2 per litre, putting even more pressure on people’s pay-packets after years and years of missing pay rises. Families are having to cancel long awaited holidays because the Government can’t handle the passport office backlog, with 50,000 people waiting longer than the already extended 10-week deadline.

Basic day-to-day public services have been decimated, making it near impossible to even achieve simple things like booking a face-to-face GP appointment. If this was a mission ‘largely accomplished’ then I dread to think what the outgoing Prime Minister’s end goal was.

I have been calling for weeks now for the Government to step-in to support our industries, households, and vital community groups. Across Bradford, we have many companies that are high-energy industries who are facing exceptionally high gas prices with no price cap to protect them.

While I pushed the Government in a debate in Parliament to address the issue, protect jobs and support our world-class manufacturers and production lines, the Minister failed to answer a single one of my eight questions, sat on his mobile phone, and then resigned from his post an hour later.

This Government needs to take the energy crisis seriously as the potential impact on jobs and British industry is too great to ignore. The Conservative Government, preoccupied with infighting and without any real plan, has left the country in a state of disrepair and facing immense challenges. Businesses and households up and down the country continue to struggle to cope. And, instead of working to solve these issues, the past few months in Westminster have been overtaken by a divided Conservative Party resulting in a leadership contest that has left me wondering if there is even a Minister in position who will turn up and do something to deal with the crises we face.

Bradford, and the country, deserves better. We need to work with businesses, rather than abandon them, to ensure fair growth and to secure our future. We need to reinvest in public services and our NHS so that, as a basic, people can get the appointments they need. As a Member of Parliament, my job is to put my constituents and my country first and focus on improving the lives of the public, and we need a Government that does the same.

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