Health secretary Sajid Javid has been accused of pulling out of an event at the “last minute” on the day he announced measures to improve access to GPs.
The health secretary announced on Wednesday that GP surgeries will receive £250million in emergency funding to help boost the number of face-to-face appointments, which saw a sharp decline during the pandemic.
The money is intended to help surgeries recruit extra temporary staff and to give patients a greater choice of appointments, with data on such appointments published by individual surgeries.
But there has already been a backlash against the proposals, with the British Medical Association warning it could prompt some to leave the profession altogether.
Speaking at the Royal College of GPs’ annual conference in Liverpool, Dr Michael Mulholland said Javid would not longer be attending the gathering as planned.
“Unfortunately we do have one change to the programme,” he said.
“The secretary of state for health for England is unable to join us today either in person or by video link.
“This is because, and I need to get this right, he had to ‘clear his diary to ensure he can fight for the NHS in the spending review, or be anywhere else you may have seen or heard him this morning’.
“As I said before, we didn’t start the fire.”
And GP Alan Shirley accused Javid of being “too frit to come and defend it in front of GPs canceling at the last minute”.
Javid defended the proposals this morning, saying the measures were about “support” for GPs and not about penalising them - despite fears a league table could lead to the “naming and shaming” of a workforce demoralised by the demands of the pandemic.
But Javid said providing “more data, more transparency” would help drive up standards across the country.
“It is important that patients have this information because I want to see a levelling up of healthcare throughout the country,” he told Sky News.
“We do need to understand what the differences are in healthcare provision across throughout the country.”
He added: “This whole package today is about support. This is all about helping GPs so that they can do what they do best, which is seeing their patients.”
The BMA, which represents doctors across the UK, said it was “dismayed” by the package and that GPs across England would be “horrified about what is being presented”.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was “no wonder Sajid Javid is hiding from GPs”.
The department for health and social care has been approached for comment.