Patients are having to wait longer before they can see their doctor as a result of an increase in GP workloads, which according to Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) is "shoring up the rest of the NHS from collapse."
Dr Baker, who is also Clinical Director for Patient Safety, warns that GP services are "under severe threat of extinction" because they cannot cope with the growing demand, while “patients are already bearing the brunt of the problem.”
The ‘problem’ continues to be “dwindling budgets” and mounting pressure on NHS resources. The impact is being increasingly felt in the GP clinic where ordinary men and women are potentially put at risk when faced with growing waiting lists just to book an appointment .
Growing concern recently led to a RCGP commissioned ComRes poll of just over 1,000 UK adults, which found that 28 per cent of those asked said they were unable to see their doctor within the same week.
GP share of the NHS budget continually reduced
Despite increasing workloads, GP practices are allocated an ever smaller share of the NHS budget. While the majority of all initial patient contacts takes place in the doctors’ surgery, only around 8 per cent of the NHS budget is allocated to general practice.
Dedicated general practice doctors who have been relied upon as the foundation of NHS care at the point of first contact, are expected to maintain previous levels of service despite their share of the NHS budget being continually reduced over the last ten years.
A British Medical Association (BMA) survey has also found a majority of members admitting that morale was low as they struggled with growing workloads and longer hours. Many claimed they were “changing the way they worked to find more time for emergency appointments” and also “responding to demands for more evening appointments.”
Recognising the growing concern, Your Legal Friend recently published the British Health Report, which was commissioned to find out more about how doctors and patients feel about the present and future of the NHS care system. The findings revealed a low expectation. 44 per cent of doctors believed that patient care and its scope of services will “decline in the next five years” and 28 per cent of doctors claimed they were “unable see a future for the NHS.”
Demands of the long term rise in the patient population
Despite the bleak outlook, there is no doubt that the family GP is committed to providing the best care possible. At the same time, the NHS continues to be subject to wide reaching reforms in a bid to deal with the demands of the long term rise in the patient population. The NHS expects the number of patients with multiple, long term conditions to reach nearly three million by 2018.
According to the RCGP, the NHS needs another 10,000 GPs in order to sustain the high-quality care demanded, not only for the rising numbers of people with long-term conditions, but also for an ageing population.
Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, has previously warned that, “too many hospitals in England do not have enough staff to provide care.” Yet the increasing pressure on the family doctor needs clearly to be recognised too if their patients are not to suffer from diminishing resources.
NHS England say they have cut GPs' targets by more than a third to provide doctors with more time to be with patients and they hope that many surgeries “could be open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.” It’s a welcome step in the right direction that would help ensure a high level of service is sustained for both the needs of the patient and their GP."