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NHS admits GPs ‘consistently exceeded capacity’ last winter despite extra funds

The NHS has admitted in a new report that GP services ‘consistently exceeded the planned capacity’ last winter despite extra Government funding to provide more appointments.

NHS Improvement’s review of winter 2017/18 revealed that GPs and nurses provided over 345,000 more appointments than were commissioned by CCGs, in what was the worst flu outbreak since 2010/11.

This comes after Pulse revealed in January that GPs were forced to cancel their leave and work overtime to deal with the influx of patients hit by flu, despite an extra £20m in Government funding to support general practice.

But the BMA argues that ‘winter pressures’ are now year-long, and these short-term fixes do not support GPs trying to meet growing and unprecedented demands.

In the report NHS Improvement found that nearly 1.3m additional GP and nurse appointments were provided over the winter, while only 950,000 were commissioned.

On top of this, GPs also provided 2,000 more home visits and 50,800 more out-of-hours contacts than were commissioned.

When comparing the last winter period with 2016/17, the NHS review of winter 2017/18 found:

  • There were 400,000 more calls to NHS 111;
  • An additional 290,000 people attended A&E departments;
  • An extra 100,000 people were admitted to hospital as an emergency.

The report said: ‘Over the Christmas and new year bank holiday we asked local commissioners to ensure sufficient access to GP appointments to match assessed demand on each day, commissioning additional capacity where necessary. In aggregate additional GP activity provided over this period consistently exceeded planned capacity.’

The report also said that the situation was worsened by the late arrival of the £20m Government funding to support access to more GP appointments.

It said: ‘This [funding] was welcome, but it was only announced in November and therefore the full potential impact was harder to achieve in time for January and February.’

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This report confirms what GPs experienced first-hand this winter, as they endeavoured to continue to provide high-quality care to their patients despite unprecedented demand on services…

‘While more money for extra appointments was welcome last year, this took too long to reach the front line. The Government must invest in supporting practices to cope with the increased workload winter brings and provide resources earlier so they can meet the surge in demand.’

He continued: ‘It is no longer realistic to expect GPs to continue to deliver beyond what is pragmatically possible. The BMA has been clear that so-called “winter pressures” in the NHS are now year-long pressures, and this is no more evident than in general practice.’

At the beginning of this year, flu cases suddenly spiked with consultations for flu-symptoms increasing by 78% in just one week.

Researchers later reported that GPs were dealing with an average of 89 extra appointments a week during the busiest period over the winter.


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