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Patients risk becoming ‘bereft of a GP service’ in some areas, GPC warns

The chair of the GPC has warned that patients are at risk of becoming ‘bereft of a GP service’ in some areas – prompting the Department of Health to accuse GPs of ‘scaremongering’.

Addressing the BMA’s annual representative meeting later today, Dr Nagpaul will say that general practice is ‘imploding’, and that continuous defunding of the service has caused a ‘tragic’ and ‘quadruple whammy’ of a crisis in workload, workforce, premises and morale.

He will say that general practice is seeing 40 million more patients annually than five years ago, the greatest rise in any sector of the NHS, that its share of the NHS budget has dwindled from more than 10% to less than 8%, and there was a 15% reduction in GP training applications last year.

But the DH has said it is ‘scaremongering’ to claim general practice is imploding.

Dr Nagpaul will tell delegates today: ‘These intolerable pressures have butchered the joy and ability of GPs to care for their patients, leading younger doctors to shun general practice in favour of a career in hospital, with a 15% reduction in GP training applications last year, and 451 places unfilled. Ministers ignore this workforce crisis at their peril, which seriously risks leaving patients bereft of a GP service in some areas.

‘And whilst the government has announced £650m to ease winter NHS pressures, can you blame GPs for feeling aggrieved that the crisis affecting 90% of patient contacts in the NHS which is in general practice is given zilch, showing a callous disregard for the plight of a profession on its knees.’

The solution, he will say, is to ensure GP services are funded by just over £70 per patient, which he describes as a ‘bargain’ compared to hospital services.

He will say: ‘Therefore, amidst all the headline-grabbing pressures in the NHS, I urge ministers to open their eyes and wake up to the fact that general practice is not just in crisis, it’s imploding. And if the building blocks of the NHS crumble, the NHS collapses too. Not alarmist, not scaremongering. Just fact.

‘I call upon government to finally stop denigrating GPs as the problem, and to see us as the solution. That in an NHS paralysed with cash constraints, it’s logical to invest in the unarguable cost-effectiveness of general practice. GPs are a bargain at the price – just over £70 per patient per year pays for unlimited appointments, home visits, telephone advice, and so forth – a fraction of the tariff cost of a single outpatient appointment.’

But a DH spokesperson said: ‘It is scaremongering to say that GP services are “imploding”. The number of GPs has gone up by 1,000 since 2010 and we’ve taken tough decisions to protect the NHS budget so we can strengthen family doctoring, reform out-of-hospital care and improve GP access for 7.5 million people.

‘GPs agreed to be at the heart of our radical plans for more personalised community care in return for cutting their targets by more than a third to free up more time with patients. GP premises must be fit to help deliver a single, seamless service for the elderly and most vulnerable.’