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Patients increasingly unable to see their preferred GP, finds study

The number of patients who were able to see their preferred GP fell by 27.5% between 2012 and 2017, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Leicester assessed data from the GP patient survey from 6,243 practices on whether patients have a preferred GP and how often they were able to see that GP.

The study, published in the BJGP, said the decline of continuity of care is 'persistent and widespread', but added that 'good experience was more positively correlated with being able to see a preferred GP than with having a preferred GP'.

It found that in 2017, just 27.2% of patients were usually able to see their own GP compared to 37.5% in 2012.

The researchers concluded there were a variety of reasons for less continuity of care.

They said: 'Factors other than deprivation may be implicated in the decline of continuity:Workload has steadily increased owing to an ageing population with more morbidity, QOF incentivising proactive care and work shifting from secondary care.

'Primary care services have become more fragmented owing to contract changes that allow alternative providers, and an increasing proportion of part-time or locum clinicians in the workforce.The proportion of total NHS spending allocated to primary care has declined.'

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, said the figures are 'an indication of the growing impact of unsustainable pressures on general practice'.C

He said: 'We cannot underestimate the importance and value of the long-term relationship with patients that a GP practice can provide, which benefits not only individual patients but also the wider healthcare system.

He added: 'Through no fault of GPs, the needs and expectations of patients are increasingly being unmet, largely due to the failure to address increasing staff shortages insufficient funding.'

RCGP vice-chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne, said the results of the study were ‘disappointing but understandable’.

She said: 'Continuity of care is at the heart of general practice and is highly valued by both patients and GPs alike – in fact, 80% of UK family doctors say it is one of the most essential components of general practice.'

She added: 'But unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder to deliver as GPs and our teams work under incredibly intense resource and workforce pressures.'

However, a study into 200 practices in England last year found that assigning elderly patients a ‘named GP’ did not have any effect on their continuity of care, with GPs at the time declaring it an ‘evidence based policy failure’.

Meanwhile, recent research found that patients who see different GPs from visit to visit are more than twice as likely to be admitted to hospital.

Readers' comments (7)

  • Yet another expensive study points out the obvious

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  • BJGP does another ground breaking what do bears do in the woods study.Glad I don’t help to fund this anymore.This is what you get with a mass abandonment of a rapidly sinking ship.One wonder what the college will be called with no GP workforce.

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  • AlanAlmond

    Extended opening hours, Sunday evening surgeries and 24/7 access should fix this surely? Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

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  • The way primary care is funded patients will be lucky to see any GP in future let alone their preferred GP. Unless there is drastic improvement in funding patients will be seeing more & more of ANP/Physician assistant/ nurses & heath care assistent.

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  • No surprise and yet the move is towards working at scale forming hubs, practice mergers. It will just get worse.

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  • Well spotted Sherlock. No need for this, just ring up and try to book appt.

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  • Dear Ian and others,

    The study was not expensive. It used already published data from a variety of official sources and was done very quickly.

    The central argument is that the decline of continuity is a consequence worsening access overall due to an imbalance between excessive workload and insufficient resources.

    The authors were trying to highlight the pressures that primary care is under. It is obvious to those using or delivering the services, but not understood or acknowledged by those responsible for running it.

    Raising awareness and stimulating debate are a start if things are to change.

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