The health secretary said a two-week wait to see a GP ‘would be the maximum’.
The health secretary said a two-week wait to see a GP ‘would be the maximum’.

The health secretary said a two-week wait to see a GP ‘would be the maximum’.

Health Secretary Therese Coffey smiles

Therese Coffey is setting out her promises as the new health secretary (Image: PA)

Waiting times for GP appointments will be limited to a maximum of two weeks, as promised by health secretary Therese Coffey.

The stress of surgery will be eased as more people are referred to pharmacies to help with problems such as coughs and headaches, she said.

But the plans were immediately criticized by the shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, who said the last Labor government had given patients the right to see a GP within 48 hours – ‘until the Conservatives scrapped it’.

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As part of Ms Coffey’s pledge, pharmacies will also be given the power to dispense medicines such as contraception without a prescription, reforming Wales and Scotland.

More GP assistants and nurses will be recruited and volunteers will be asked to join a ‘national effort’ to help the NHS.

Ms Coffey said the measures would free up 3 million appointments a year.

“Our plan will make it easier to get an appointment. We will work tirelessly to achieve that,” she added.

“We know this winter will be tough and this is the first step in strengthening our valuable NHS and social care services so people can get the care they need.”

But its draft does not include any plans to increase the recruitment or retention of doctors.

There is currently a shortage of 4,200 GPs in England, the NHS has warned.

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Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said patients had ‘paid the price’ for the government’s failure to tackle the staffing crisis in the NHS.

But Thorrun Govind, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said the plan would help the NHS ‘make the most of patient knowledge’.

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