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The BMA GPs committee announced the first wave of results from its latest GP survey of more than 5,000 doctors working on the frontline of NHS care last week.
Eight out of 10 of them told us that workload pressures prevent them from delivering safe quality care, and that urgent investment is needed to support practices with community nurses, mental health provision and empowering patients to self manage their care better.
This week sees the release of further data from the survey, which paints an alarming picture of a dedicated workforce starved of the necessary resources and struggling to provide the standards of healthcare that we, as professionals, want to deliver and that patients expect and deserve.
Our survey shows that a third of GP partners have been unable to fill staff vacancies for more than 12 months, leaving surgeries short-staffed and patients having to wait longer for appointments with their GPs. The bad state of the workforce is in marked contrast to the Government’s election pledge to find an additional 5,000 GPs – an election promise that is clearly being broken.
GP surgeries up and down the country are close to breaking point, with many only a single doctor retirement or long-term illness away from collapse. Those same practices are, in many cases, being kept afloat by locum staff with a third of locum bookings, where they can be found, reported to be covering long-term vacancies caused by the chronic shortage of doctors.
The survey also showed that the recruitment catastrophe is worst in those places where workload is greatest, showing clearly that those communities who most need their GPs are the ones suffering the worst shortages. Yet again, it appears that austerity is hitting hardest the services for the most needy in society.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is on record as saying that the starvation of resources going into general practice has been deliberate, describing it as ‘penance’ for the profession having achieved a contract in 2004 that put general practice back on a secure financial footing. The situation of collapse in general practice is therefore the result of a deliberate policy of disinvestment that threatens the very fabric of the NHS and the health of millions. Our politicians carry a heavy responsibility for their actions.
We at GPC recognise the promises made by NHS England in the GP Forward View to increase investment in general practice by £2.4bn (roughly 28 per cent) over the next five years. The delivery of those promises in full is the absolute minimum that is required if NHS general practice is to survive. There are many who believe the chronic underfunding to be so severe that even this injection may be too little, too late.
Our profession was once regarded as the jewel in the crown of the NHS, imagery that is cruelly ironic when we look at the modern reality of a service stripped bare. We demand that more is done to revive general practice and restore it to its full potential as the world leader it has always been.
One third of GP vacancies remain unfilled
Read the survey’s findings
Mark Sanford-Wood is a locum GP in Devon