independent– People living in deprived areas are finding it far harder to get GP appointments than people in wealthier ones, according to a new analysis that lifts the lid on health inequality after 11 years of austerity.
Labour blamed government underinvestment in the NHS after a House of Commons Library study showed that in the five NHS areas with the highest deprivation scores, as many as 1 in 5 patients could not get a suitable appointment.
It comes after Boris Johnson this week delivered a speech on “levelling up” deprived parts of the country, but was criticised for not actually including any significant new policies in it.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said there could be “no levelling up” while the government was “imposing a tight financial straight jacket” across the health service.
The five most deprived clinical commissioning group areas in England are Blackpool, Manchester, Knowsley, Liverpool and Hull.
In these places, the number of patients who either could not get an appointment or could not take one up at the time they were offered was between 10 per cent and 17 per cent, according to a survey of patients.
The least deprived parts of the country fared much better, with Surrey Heartland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) having an equivalent figure of just 8.3 per cent, and leafy Oxfordshire at 8 per cent.
Mr Ashworth said: “It’s unacceptable that patients are unable to see their GP particularly in poorer areas thanks to years of Tory underfunding and cuts.
“There can be no ‘levelling up’ if people with the greatest health needs struggle to access care or even are forced to go without putting themselves at risk of long term sickness.
“Instead of investing sufficiently in general practise, Sajid Javid is embarking on a top down reorganisation of the NHS that imposes a tight financial straight jacket on local areas while sidelining family doctors. Ministers should put patient first, expand access to health care to bring waiting lists down rather than a distracting NHS restructuring.”
Mr Javid, the new health secretary who replaced Matt Hancock, faces a decision over whether to press ahead with his predecessor’s Health and Care Bill.
The bill would give the health secretary more power over the day to day running of the health service, especially changes to hospital services.
The NHS has faced financial austerity in recent years, with its budget rising by just 1.4 per cent each year on average adjusting for inflation in the decade between 2009/10 to 2018/19.
This compared to budget rises of 3.7 per cent average rises since the NHS was established in the 1940s, according to the King’s Fund think tank.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment on this story.