General practice issues at Party Conference 2023

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The major parties have been setting out their health policies, with an election likely next year.

This yearsparty conference season was clearly perceived as key in the run up to the next general election. Each of the parties took the opportunity to reach into their base and sought to activate and inspire activists and members. 

The high numbers of lobbyists and vested interests seeking face time with Shadow Ministers and advisors at the Labour conference in Liverpool was noteworthy. As were the number of speaking events which the front bench and their teams managed to squeeze into the four days of politicking. 

And despite small numbers in Bournemouth, the presence of the ghosts of Downing Street past in Manchester and the glitter-bombing of Sir Keir in Liverpool, there was a strong sense of preparations being made. 

Conservative Party conference 

The Prime Minister’s decision to ban smoking by phasing it out for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 was the major health announcement from the conference, with the government claiming that up to 75,000 GP appointments each month are a result of smoking-related illness.   

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s speech had little to say on general practice, with few new announcements.  

Mr Barclay did announce the creation of a new £30-million fund to accelerate the adoption of technology in the NHS and a change to the NHS constitution to ‘recognise the importance of different biological needs and protect the rights of women’. 

He also called the BMA ‘militant’ for continuing to pursue strike action, and criticised Labour politicians in London and Wales for ‘lecturing people on what they eat and drink’. 

In his speech, the Chancellor discussed his approach to public services, and his aim to increase public sector productivity growth by 0.5%. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will examine ‘why doctors and nurses say they spend up to half their time not with patients but on admin’. 

Labour Party conference 

In his speech, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting announced that a Labour government would immediately provide an extra £1.1bn to the NHS to ‘beat the backlog’, with extra clinics at evening and weekends to create ‘2 million extra appointments each year’.  

To achieve the party’s mission of an ‘NHS fit for the future’, Streeting stated that ‘reform is more important than investment’. He criticised the time it took for patients to be seen in a ‘hospital-based system’.  

Streeting described GPs in Sussex who ‘work together to provide specialist and urgent care in the community’, going on to say that ‘primary care will be at the heart’ of Labour’s NHS. He pledged to train thousands more GPs, ‘cut red tape’ to free up their time and ‘bring back the family doctor’. 

The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer reiterated in his speech that Labour will end the ‘8am scrambled for a GP appointment with nods to technology and system change.  

Throughout the conference there were fringe events where Shadow Ministers set out their stalls. In an event on care hosted by Carers UK, Chief Executive Helen Walker highlighted that 12,000 people become a carer each day, with too many working more than 50 hours per week or giving up work to become a carer (600 per day in the UK). 

Shadow Minister for Social Care Andrew Gwynne MP said that Labour wants to reinstate a national carers strategy. And Leader of Islington Council Kaya Comer-Schwartz reported that there are 14,840 unpaid carers currently working in Islington, which makes up 8.1% of Islington’s over 5s population and 2% of these are working more than 50 hours per week. She described Islington as a ‘carer friendly’ borough as she has helped develop Islington’s carer strategy and agrees that this should be done on a national level. 

Other sessions focused on the use of data, economic value of prevention, workforce training and retention, pharmacy and community care and a host of other topics. 

Liberal Democrat Party conference 

The Lib Dems announced a manifesto commitment to enshrine the right to see a GP within 7 days in the NHS Constitution. They would increase the number of GPs by 8,000 by ‘boosting training places, improving retention and launching a campaign to encourage retired doctors and British trained doctors working abroad to return’. The party would also introduce a new 24/7 hotline so people could book a GP appointment anytime.