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Increasing GP workforce would reduce premature deaths, study finds

Increasing the number of GPs will reduce the number of premature deaths and also ‘improve population health’, a new study has found.

The authors of the study, published in BMJ Openperformed a cross-sectional analysis of 7,858 GP practices in England, and considered premature death ratios against population characteristics – such as deprivation and smoking – and primary care factors including the number of GPs and GP access – to identify what influences premature deaths. 

Higher numbers of GPs were negatively associated with premature mortality and the researchers claim that recruiting 8,500 more GPs would prevent more than 1,000 premature deaths across England.

The researchers also added that boosting the GP workforce would help to improve hypertension detection – another factor that was associated with premature mortality.

An increase in hypertension detection by just 1% was associated with a prevention of over 1,200 premature deaths in England and the researchers said that: ‘Levels of detection of hypertension have been shown to be associated with the supply of GPs and patient access.’

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‘An increase in the numbers of GPs is required, therefore, not only to improve the convenience of access but also to improve population health.’

The researchers went on to add that general practice in England currently lacks the capacity to meet demand and believe their study supports proposals to increase GP numbers, but also suggest that increasing numbers of primary care nurses and other staff could help to tackle the problem.

Deprivation was noted as the most powerful predictor of premature mortality across England, and increased diabetes prevalence and a higher number of white patients – when associated with deprivation – were also positively associated with premature death.

The study did not define causality but the researchers claim the study highlights the need for more deprived areas to receive special attention when it comes to primary care.

Concluding in the paper, the researchers added: ‘Greater supply of primary care is associated with lower premature mortality even in a health system that has strong primary care (England).

’Health systems need to sustain the capacity of primary care to deliver effective care, and should assist primary care providers in identifying and meeting the needs of socioeconomically deprived groups.’