Responding to calls from the prime minister, Theresa May, for more seven-day GP access, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chair, said:
“GPs deliver care 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and all GP practices must have measures in place for out-of-hours patient care. Many GP practices already offer evening and weekend appointments, and there are examples where extended opening has been abandoned due to lack of demand1. Government funding for extended opening has also been halved in some areas.
“The current crisis in the health service extends well beyond A&Es, with all parts of the NHS, including GP surgeries, working as hard as they possibly and safely can to keep up with demand. Much of the pressure on A&E has nothing to do with general practice: it has to do with seriously ill patients for whom seeing a GP would not prevent a hospital admission. These patients are facing delays in being admitted to hospital because of a chronic shortage of beds, as well as delays in discharging elderly patients due to a funding crisis in community and social care.
“This crisis, which was both predictable and avoidable, is the culmination of a decade of underfunding, and a recruitment crisis that has left one in three GP practices unable to fill vacancies2. GPs are now delivering up to 340m consultations a year and can see up to 60 patients a day. The resulting pressures have led to hundreds of surgeries closing last year because of staffing and funding shortages, and eight in 10 GPs saying they are unable to provide safe patient care because workloads are so great3.
“This is not the time to deflect blame or scapegoat overstretched GP services, when the fundamental cause of this crisis is that funding is not keeping up with demand. This is evidenced by the fact the UK spends less on health and has fewer doctors and beds per head than other leading countries, as highlighted by the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, only this week. Rather than trying to shamelessly shift the blame onto GPs, the government should take responsibility for a crisis of its own making and outline an emergency plan to get to grips with the underlying cause, which is the chronic under-resourcing of the NHS and social care.”
Notes to editors
The British Medical Association (BMA) is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.
1. A study of seven-day GP access by NHS England found that many Saturday and Sunday appointments were not filled, and that the costs far outweighed the savings made in reduced A&E attendance.
2. Almost a third of GP partners who run GP practices in England have been unable to fill GP staff vacancies for a year. More information is available here.
3. Eight out of ten GPs (84 percent) believe that workload pressures are either unmanageable or excessive and are having a direct impact on the quality and safety of the care they deliver to patients. More information is available here.
4. The BMA’s briefing paper on NHS winter pressures is available here.
5. For media enquiries, please email [email protected], or call 0207 383 6448.