The Liberal Democrats have promised to give everyone the right to see a GP within seven days as the party highlights a divide between health services in urban and rural areas
Research by the House of Commons Library – commissioned by the party – showed the proportion of people waiting four weeks or more for a GP appointment is three times higher in rural parts of England than in London.
Just over 20% of patients living in the countryside waited two weeks or more between April and June of this year, compared to 16.9% of those in cities and towns.
And 6% of rural patients waited four weeks or more, compared to 4.6% of urban patients.
The research also showed rural communities in the East Midlands and South West faced the worst waits, with 6.6% having to go 28 days or more – three times higher than the 2.1% facing the same delays in the capital.
The Lib Dems are calling on the government to take action on closing this divide, and promised they would “enshrine in the NHS constitution” a right for patients to see a GP within a week, or within 24 hours if the case is urgent, with a pledge to hire 8,000 more GPs in England.
Party leader Sir Ed Davey – who will appear on Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips this weekend – said: “Millions of people across the country are struggling to get a GP appointment when they need one, leaving them waiting in pain and distress.
“GPs should be the front door to the NHS, but that door has been slammed shut in people’s faces after years of Conservative broken promises and neglect.
“We will narrow the divide between rural and urban areas, ensuring everyone can see a GP when they need to and get the care they deserve.”
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The Lib Dems are gathering in Bournemouth this weekend for their annual party conference and senior party sources told Sky News that the NHS would be the “golden thread” running through the event.
As a result, the party made a second announcement on Saturday night – the promise to provide mental health “MOTs” for several at-risk groups on the NHS.
In her speech to conference on Sunday, deputy leader Daisy Cooper will warn mental health has “dropped off the political radar” as she unveils proposals for regular check-ups.
People between 40 and 74 already receive physical check-ups on the NHS, but the party believes a stronger focus on mental health during these appointments would help to detect problems early at little extra cost.
The mental health “MOT” checks would be offered to men in their 40s, women who have recently given birth and people in retirement under the plans.
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Ms Cooper is expected to say: “We have a huge opportunity. Right across the blue wall and right across the country – people are furious with the Conservatives.
“They’re angry that nothing works – everything’s broken and all the things we cherish – our NHS, our precious environment, our standing in the world – have been trashed.
“I’m determined that we will win the battle of ideas on how we transform the nation’s physical and mental health, empowering people to live long and healthy lives, and to save our NHS.”