The national shortage of GPs is potentially risking patient safety as they are spread too thinly across practices, creating up to nine weeks wait for appointments in some areas. One permanent doctor has been left caring for as many as 11,000 patients at a practice in Maidstone.
Boris Johnson pledged an extra 6,000 GPs, but as previously reported, the number of GPs in England has fallen by 1,700 despite a pledge five years ago that an extra 5,000 GPs will be in the health service. Since 2015 GP numbers have fallen by six percent, but patient number have risen from 57 to 60 million.
Patients are reporting that they have had to wait weeks for an appointment, or alternatively having to turn up before the surgery opens in the hope to get a drop-in appointment. Others are resorting to attend A&E for fear of not being able to be seen by a GP.
Albion Place Medical Practice in Maidstone has experienced staffing issues leading to it applying for closure. The surgery has tried to recruit permanent GPs, but they have not stayed, so there is now only one permanent GP working three days a week, caring for 10,921 patients, the average is 1,721 patients. In 2017 an inspection by the Care Quality Commission rated it as “inadequate”, it remains open and has since been upgraded to “requires improvement” in 2018 following some improvements being made.
Many GPs are choosing to take early retirement or reduce their hours due to the increased pressure, bureaucracy and complex pension rules. Records show there are 45,625 GPs in England working the equivalent shifts of 34,862 full-time doctors. This figure is fairly static on previous years, but doesn’t include the many locum doctors and registrars covering GP surgeries. Registrars, who are qualified doctors, but still training to specialise as GPs, these doctors take 18.8 percent of appointments, an increase of 4.2 percent from 2015.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the government’s recruitment pledge “needs to be delivered urgently, and we need to see detailed plans as to how this will be achieved”. He added: “It is not right or safe that some GPs are responsible for looking after so many patients, as this investigation has found.”
Anita Charlesworth, of the Health Foundation think tank, said: “While it is positive that the government has acknowledged the importance of reversing this decline, it is hard to see how this can be delivered in the timescales set out.”
Neil Fearn, Chief Executive Officer of Pryers Solicitors explained: “GPs play a crucial role in the NHS service, usually the first port of call for any serious ailments. The importance of having the right staff in place to provide a prompt and reliable service is paramount to patient safety. Expecting vulnerable patients to queue outside in the cold in the hope of getting an appointment, or waiting weeks to be seen means that vital symptoms could be missed, or exacerbated by the time they are seen by a GP.”