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Primary care needs ‘urgent’ investment to curb record waiting times, warns think tank

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By Costanza Pearce and Eleanor Philpotts
8 August 2019

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Primary care will need ‘urgent’ investment if secondary care waiting times are to be reduced, an independent think tank has warned.

New NHS performance data published today (8 August) by NHS England shows that the number of patients waiting for hospital treatments increased by 20% between June and July this year and A&E attendance reached a record high last month.

A total of 2,266,913 people attended emergency units in England last month – the highest figure for July since current records began in August 2010, and 4% more than in July 2018.

Out of these, 86.5% were seen within four hours. This is a 0.6% increase from the same period last year, but nonetheless means that the target for 95% of patients to be seen within four hours has been missed for four consecutive years.

This target was achieved by just four of 119 major A&E departments, and may be a catalyst to NHS England scrapping this target, which could happen in April, according to an interim report on NHS access standards.

There were also 554,069 emergency admissions in July, an increase of 4.6% since July 2018.

Claudia Martinez, health policy lead of the think tank Reform, said: ‘Nobody should be surprised that patients are flocking to A&E when they see no alternative. A third of patients can’t book a same day appointment with their GP, while around 90% aren’t aware of any out-of-hours services.

‘The solution is a primary care system that keeps people out of A&E. Illness isn’t constrained to working hours, so GPs need to provide care when patients need it – which requires investment.’

She added: ‘It’s ridiculous that only 6% of the £1.8bn promised to the NHS this week is earmarked for primary care. The Government needs to urgently rethink its approach.’

This week, new Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged over £110m for primary care projects, however some health economists cast doubt on whether this was new funding.

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