King’s Fund warns of GP “crisis”

5 May 16

GP practices are “in crisis” with demand for consultations growing at three times the rate of increase in the number of family doctors, according to the King’s Fund.

Issuing a report analysing of the pressures facing the GP profession, the health think-tank said GP workload had become more complex and intensive. Telephone consultations were up 63% leading to more stressful working days, while the number of very elderly (85 and older) patients seeking GP appointments was up 28%. This age group tends to have multiple chronic conditions that need to be managed.

Primary care practices are increasingly taking on services traditionally offered by hospitals, allowing patients to stay close to home. However, the King’s Fund said there had been no equivalent shift in resources, further intensifying pressure on GPs.

But the report’s lead author Beccy Baird said: “Investment alone won’t help the crisis in general practice. To avoid the service falling apart, practical support to do things differently is crucial and must be underpinned by an ongoing understanding of what is driving demand and activity. Only then will working in general practice be an attractive proposition and ensure the service remains at the heart of the NHS.”

Elsewhere the report highlighted the significant recruitment and retention hitting the GP profession. Between 2009 and 2014 almost half (46%) of GPs leaving the profession were aged under 50. And between 2005 and 2014 the proportion of GPs aged between 55 and 64 leaving doubled.

The Department of Health and NHS England come in for criticism for failing to collect more national-level data on GPs, which could have anticipated these problems with the GP workforce.

“While we have data almost in real time to tell us what’s going on in A&E, the only national-level data we have on activity in general practice is, at best, a year out of date,” Baird said.

“It wouldn’t be acceptable to try to run a hospital on out-of-date information and it shouldn’t be for general practice either.”

The Royal College of GPs said the King’s Fund’s findings confirmed what it had been warning on for years.

Chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “GPs and our teams are making more consultations than ever before, and our patients are living longer and with multiple, long-term conditions, meaning that our workload is growing in complexity as well as volume, making the standard 10-minute appointment increasingly unfit for purpose.

“We urgently need more GPs so that we can deliver the quality of care that patients need and deserve.”

NHS England said work was underway to deal with the issues highlighted by the King’s Fund.

A spokesman said: “The General Practice Forward View published a fortnight ago tackles head on the rising pressures in primary care, backed by a ground-breaking £2.4bn action plan. At the same time the most comprehensive data on rising GP workload has just been published in The Lancet drawing on work commissioned by NHS England from Oxford University.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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