Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price AM has slammed the Welsh Government for its failure to deliver a key pledge from the 2011 Labour manifesto on making GP appointments more accessible to working people.
In its 2011 manifesto, Labour promised to increase the availability of local GP services in the evenings and Saturday mornings. And in a statement in the Senedd in 2012, the Health Minister set out that the work would happen in three phases between 2012/13 and 2014/15.
At that time, that work was intended to include increasing the availability of appointments during core hours, increasing the availability of appointments before 8.00 am and after 6.30 pm, and increasing the availability of weekend appointments.
But analysis of the Statistics for Wales GP Access survey between 2012 and 2018 showed that progress had been extremely patchy, and provision had actually decreased in terms of out-of-core-hours and weekend appointments.
Phase I – 2012/13
The survey showed wide regional variation in progress towards increasing the availability of appointments during core hours, with an overall decline in three health boards, only 16% of all surgeries offering appointments between 6 and 6.30 pm.
Phase II – 2013/14
The survey also showed that the pledge of increasing the availability of appointments outside of core hours had seemingly been scrapped, with just 10% of all practices in Wales offering appointments after 6.30 pm.
In three health boards, 0% of surgeries offered appointments after 6.30 pm and two health boards have decommissioned their extended opening hours entirely.
Phase III – 2014/15
The survey also showed that just one practice in all of Wales – in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg – offered appointments on alternate Saturdays. This represents a decrease from the 2 practices which offered Saturday appointments in 2014.
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price AM said:
“In 2011, Labour pledged to make GP appointments more accessible to working people. But in the eight years that have followed, they have failed to make any substantial progress towards meeting their own targets.
“Plaid Cymru has consistently argued that one of the best ways of ensuring access to GP services is to increase the workforce. But since pledging to extend opening hours, the number of GPs has actually decreased.
“In failing to increase the GP workforce, Labour’s pledges became nonstarters and they were quietly dropped. As a result, the Labour Welsh Government has left our local practices struggling with fewer GPs and a smaller percentage of the health budget.
“I’m afraid this is yet another case of Labour promising one thing in England and failing to do it here in Wales where they are actually the government. Wales deserves better than this, and in 2021, a Plaid Cymru Government will get to work immediately on delivering an NHS which works for Wales.”
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Health and Social Services Minister Helen Mary Jones AM said:
“Increasing the availability of GP appointments for working people was one of Labour’s main pledges in the 2011 Assembly election. But what we’ve seen in the intervening years is a mix of patchy progress and no progress at all.
“Next to no progress has been made on increasing the number of out-of-core-hours and weekend appointments. These pledges have effectively been abandoned.
“Sadly this is what the people of Wales have come to expect from this incompetent Labour government. Had Labour have actually listened to Plaid Cymru and increased the number of GP training places, they might have been able to meet their targets.
“Our communities deserve better than this – and working people deserve an NHS which works for them. We’re not in the business of managing Wales, but transforming it. That is precisely what a Plaid Cymru Government will do in 2021.”