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.