The RCGP has hit back at claims that GP surgeries worsen the A&E crisis by taking ‘four-hour lunches’ and closing whole afternoons while ‘doing private work’.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said the report in the Daily Mail, based on an investigation of GP opening times and featuring on today’s front page, ‘do not reflect’ GPs’ reality of working 11-hour days to cover soaring consultation rates.
Dr Baker was responding to claims made in the newspaper article that ‘a quarter of surgeries shut for at least one half-day during the week while others close for up to four and a half hours for lunch’, illustrated with a relaxed looking model posing as a doctor leaning back in his chair with the caption ‘me time’ underneath.
The story also said: ‘It is not clear why doctors need to shut their surgeries on a weekday. Some may use the time to catch up on paperwork, others may earn additional cash attending meetings, doing shifts as locums or carrying out private work.’
The Daily Mail quoted the Patient Association as saying that patients ‘will continue to present themselves at the already overstretched A&E if they are not able to access GP services when they need it’.
But Dr Baker said: ‘Almost half of all GPs now work 11 hours a day in surgery and the majority conduct between 40-60 patient consultations on a daily basis.’
‘The majority of practices are open from 8am-6.30pm. Most GP practices are run by small teams and practices might close for short periods of time to allow staff to have a break but cover is always provided.’
‘There might be times when practices need to close for staff training or meetings but again, cover will always be provided. If practices are small or singlehanded and they are providing care to patients for over 52 hours a week, it would not be unreasonable for them not to offer surgery on one afternoon in the interests of patient safety.’
‘It is also important to remember that even when practices are closed, GPs are still working and carrying out phone consultations and home visits.’
She added that to improve patient access the Government has to invest in general practice, as the service was now ‘teetering on the brink of collapse’.
She said: ‘The only solution is for the four governments of the UK to invest properly in general practice so that we can provide more GPs, more consultations and longer consultations for all our patients.’
A spokesperson for NHS England, said: ‘GP practices must open for their contracted hours. This is non-negotiable. However, on the rare occasions when this isn’t possible, practices should ensure alternative arrangements are in place for patients.’