Doctors have taken the unprecedented step of writing to Health Secretary Sajid Javid to reveal the scale of a crisis that is putting patient safety at risk. They say the situation is serious, but will only get worse unless immediate action is taken to address life-threatening concerns.
On Sunday 3,569 general practitioners, retired doctors and general practitioners in training had signed the letter, published exclusively in the Express on Monday.
Professor Martin Marshall, president of the Royal College of GPs, warned: “General practice is the cornerstone of the NHS. It helps more patients than the rest of the NHS combined. So when GPs and their patients say GP is in crisis, we should all be concerned. It is clear that we are already struggling, and without action things are likely to get worse.
Patients are already struggling to get routine appointments due to a general staffing emergency. The analysis suggests that four out of 10 should quit smoking in five years.
Millions of people were unable to see a doctor face to face during the Covid peak, as demand increased in volume and complexity.
GPs have long complained about the day-to-day obstacles preventing them from providing timely care and support, including a lack of resources and reliable IT systems. The stress of not being properly equipped to help the sick and vulnerable has seen many suffer from their own poor mental health and an alarming number of newly qualified doctors are leaving the profession as a result.
The government has promised to provide 6,000 more GPs, but the RCGP said it must act now as the row over the actual number of doctors on the job escalates.
In 2015, then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt promised 5,000 more GPs by 2020. The target was not met.
Excluding trainees, there are now about 27,647 full-time family physicians, down 132 from when the promise was made. The RCGP said that since 2015 the number of full-time equivalent trained GPs has fallen by 1,516. The British Medical Association says the true figure is much higher with 1,622 fewer fully qualified GPs since September 2015,
An average doctor will look after around 2,000 patients, each of whom visits the practice around five times a year, meaning they cycle through 10,000 appointments. In some parts of the country, there are just six GPs caring for 14,000 patients, while others see more than 60 a day.
A desperate family GP has told of how the NHS is failing the most needy, saying: ‘I’ve had two patients in tears this week because we can’t refer to hospital clinics because they have closed due to be overwhelmed. Patients with severe symptoms who are stuck and I can’t offer them anything else
“The only thing I could suggest was that they both go private. The current rate to see a consultant privately in London is between £300 and £400. This is an initial assessment and not enquiries. These two patients are in their 70s. It makes me sick.
Some surgeries have deliberately disabled online patient access as they cannot cope with the volume of demand. In many cases where patients can make an appointment, it is rarely with the same doctor.
The coalition of current and former doctors is calling for bold actions, including a new recruitment and retention strategy to go beyond the goal of hiring an additional 6,000 GPs.
Other demands include an NHS-wide campaign to free up time by cutting unnecessary bureaucracy, investment in IT upgrades and a £1billion works program to repair crumbling surgical buildings .
A growing number of patients unable to get routine GP appointments are turning to the private sector to avoid long waiting lists.
The latest figures suggest 1.6 million patients used a paying GP among the lowest levels of satisfaction with family doctors in the NHS. Meanwhile, almost half of GPs said they would consider private work for an online service.
A GP told the Daily Express: ‘In fact we already have a two-tier healthcare system where many of my colleagues will tell a patient that if they can afford it they should. People are increasingly pressured to pay for access to health care in order not to wait so long.
According to figures released by the Department of Health and Social Care, there were 4,600 more doctors and 11,100 nurses working in the NHS than the previous year.
The government has said £520m has been invested to improve access and expand GP capacity as attempts are made to create an additional 50m appointments a year to clear the Covid backlog.