Minister admits to shortage of GPs in West Midlands
A lack of doctors in poorer areas is contributing to ill health in the West Midlands, Health Secretary Alan Johnson has admitted.
He announced plans to establish new GP surgeries in areas which currently miss out on health services. The so-called "under-doctored" areas also tend to be the most deprived.
The Health Secretary revealed three new surgeries would be created in the area covered by Heart of Birmingham Primary Care Trust, which includes Aston, Ladywood, Lozells, Nechells, Perry Barr, Soho and Sparkbrook.
South Birmingham will also gain a new surgery. There will be three new surgeries in Sandwell and three in Wolverhampton, as well as one in Telford and one in Coventry.
Figures from the department of Health show that GP cover in some areas is significantly better than in others.
For example, in Herefordshire there are 77 medical practitioners per 100,000 people, while in Sandwell there are 63.In the Heart of Birmingham PCT area there are 65 practitioners per 100,000 people.
A study published earlier this year found that people living in the richest parts of Birmingham can live up to ten years longer than those in the poorer areas.
According to research by pension consultants Punter Southall, men in the Sutton Four Oaks ward can expect to live 2.4 years longer than the national average of 76 years.
The figure for women is 1.2 years above the national 80.5 years.
This is in stark contrast to Ladywood, where the mortality rate for men is 7.4 years below the national average and for women 3.4 years below.
Mr Johnson said: "We have announced £250 million investment, every PCT will get at least one new GP-led health centre open 8am to 8pm.
"We are also establishing 100 new GP practices, in what we call under-doctored areas. That’s the 25 per cent of PCTs with the fewest number of GPs per head of population.
"Normally, these areas will be the most deprived areas. That is 250 new GP-led health centres and GP surgeries, all of which will be offering not just GP services but also maternity services health visitors, dentistry in most cases, and some diagnostics."
He insisted that health standards had risen since Labour came to power for everyone.
But he said Labour had inherited inequalities which had existed since the NHS was created.
He said: "In 60 years of the NHS it’s been exactly the same. GPs choose where to set up. They are, in a sense, small businesses. They are in control of their location.
"This is part of the progression from a situation where the NHS was virtually in intensive care in 1997.
"We put in the extra resources, 86,000 more nurses, 35,000 more doctors, more machinery, more equipment, more technology and building new hospitals."
The first practices are expected to open to patients in a year’s time and will be funded from a £250 million fund. The access fund will also provide at least 150 GP-led health centres across the country.
Speaking to The Birmingham Post, Mr Johnson also highlighted plans to allow patients with minor ailments to receive treatment from their local pharmacy rather than having to go to their GP.
Pharmacies will be encouraged to become "healthy living" centres, supporting people with long-term conditions such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and eczema. They will also screen for vascular disease and some sexually transmitted infections and issue flu jabs and other vaccinations.
Mr Johnson said: "We want to make much more use of chemists around the country. We can deal with a lot of these problems of people who work away from home not being able to access their GP, and not being able to access primary care.
"If you can’t access primary care, you can’t get into the system."