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GPs in deprived areas ‘appear less empathetic’

GPs in deprived areas appear less empathetic towards patients due to time constraints and increased multimorbidity in these areas, a new study has found.

The study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine, examined the consultations of 659 patients in 20 practices, and found that GPs’ verbal and non-verbal communication was less ‘patient centred’ in deprived practices, compared to richer ones, and GPs spent more time looking at computer screens during consultations with patients from poorer areas.

Professor Stewart Mercer from the University of Glasgow, lead author of the study said: ‘It is not to suggest GPs working in deprived areas are un-empathetic, but rather that they face a higher workload and have patients with complex needs.’

Professor Mercer added: ‘Because of the inverse care law, the GPs in those deprived areas struggle to deliver patient-centred care due to time and resource constraints, and thus the NHS is not working best where it is needed most.’

This follows research that GPs in the poorest areas get £10 less per patient than average practices.

Dr Miles Mack, chair of RCGP Scotland, said: ‘Right across the country GPs and patients are facing closed or restricted lists, reduction of services, GPs being forced to leave the profession or to work elsewhere, and longer and longer waiting times for appointments. It is unacceptable. This research is further proof that a lack of appropriate investment damages patient safety.’

The research from the University of Glasgow and the University of Southampton was funded by Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office.