Rishi Sunak plans to relaunch his government with a plan to take the pressure off GPs by encouraging pharmacists to treat more common ailments.
The Prime Minister hopes the scheme, to improve the ailing NHS by freeing up hundreds of thousands of appointments, will lead to a turnaround of Conservative fortunes.
The work builds on measures already under way to give more prescribing powers to pharmacists and to expand GP phone lines to end the “8am scramble” to get a slot.
On Friday, he also pledged to press ahead on delivering the five priorities he unveiled in the new year, following heavy losses for the Tories at the local elections.
But defeated councillors and worried MPs urged him to go further, blaming the defeat on failure to deliver the benefits of Brexit and fear of uncontrolled housebuilding, as well as problems in the NHS.
Alan Jarrett, the defeated Tory leader of Medway Council in Kent, which fell to Labour, said it was a “very disappointing night” and that the Government had to “get their act together on a number of fronts”.
Conservative MPs warned that voters were staying at home, angry at the failure of the Prime Minister to cut taxes.
Mr Sunak’s GP access plan will see “common ailments services” set up at high street pharmacists so more patients can be treated without seeing their family doctor.
The package is designed to ensure that those patients who need to see a GP have shorter waits and longer slots.
The Prime Minister first promised the plan in January, when the NHS was in the depths of the worst winter crisis in its history.
Next week, officials will set out details of measures to boost access to GPs, including the creation of new services at pharmacies to treat problems such as urinary tract infections.
Family doctors have been told they can no longer tell patients to phone back later, with surgeries to be asked to introduce better systems to ensure all patients are sent to the most appropriate place for help.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said pharmacists were willing to provide more help, but could only do so if they were properly reimbursed for any extra work taken on.
She said: “We welcome any government plan that would recognise the important role community pharmacies can play in tackling the current challenges facing the NHS.
“But the plan will have to be properly remunerated and cut out any bureaucratic burden because pharmacies are currently struggling to keep their heads above the water and cannot take any additional work without appropriate funding and support.”
Mr Sunak acknowledged the Tory local election results were “disappointing” – but suggested he was pinning his hopes on victory in the next general election and achieving his five priorities.
A Tory source said: “We always knew these elections were going to be tough. We’ve made progress in the last few months but there’s a lot to do and the Prime Minister will be relentlessly focused on delivering the people’s priorities to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats.”
But Mr Jarrett told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government needed to “get their act together on a number of fronts”.
“Obviously getting a grip of the economy, but there are a number of things like being clearer about housing targets, excessive housing requirements that are unpopular locally,” he said.
“A really big issue here is access to GP provision.”
One former Cabinet minister urged the Government to “look long and hard at these results” and start delivering on tax cuts.
“I think the leadership of the party needs to really reflect on the mood of the country,” said the ex-minister.
“There were comments on the doorstep that we’re too socialist, people are wanting lower taxes. I think it comes down to the ability to deliver.”
Michael Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield, said: “The Conservative Party knows it has to address the cost of living crisis, as well as the other issues that the Prime Minister has listed. It’s time for delivery, rather than talk.”
Craig Mackinlay, the Tory MP for South Thanet, said: “It’s not going very well at all. There’s plenty of Conservative voters out there – we know that, we found a lot of them in 2019. The problem is we have not given our core any great enthusiasm or reason to vote for us. So that’s why we’re voting, because our vote has not come out.
“We’ve not enthused our base as to why we should be voting for us. Our core vote has not felt enthused enough and I’m afraid that is down to our policies, the high tax and this lack of imagination and timidity. That’s what I’d put this down to – not Conservative switchers, Conservative stay-at-homers.”
Marco Longhi, the Tory MP for Dudley North, said: “We need delivery on the economy, we need delivery on the NHS and we need delivery on the small boats and net migration.”