Practices are increasingly becoming fully booked for the day by 8:30am because GPs are so overworked, RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada has warned MPs.
Professor Gerada told the Commons health committee that the profession is becoming ‘demoralised’ over headlines blaming GPs for the current crisis in A&E, and accused health secretary Jeremy Hunt of being ‘lazy’ in blaming the GP contract.
Speaking at the health committee’s inquiry into emergency services, Professor Gerada said: ‘I’m getting emails from colleagues across the country saying their surgeries are fully booked by 8:30am in the morning, which is disgraceful. How can we run an NHS where you cannot get, unless it is an emergency – and by that I mean a dire emergency – an appointment with the GP on the day? This is not because GPs are playing golf, but because they are working 15-hour days.
She added: ‘We see outside our practice queues going down the road, which I have not seen since the flu epidemic. We need a whole system approach, to look at the underinvestment in GP care – we have 9% of the resources for 90% of the activity.’
Professor Gerada attacked Mr Hunt’s recent comments on out-of-hours care and negative headlines in the media, warning that the profession was becoming demoralised.
She told the MPs: ‘It is lazy to blame the 2004 contract… that is 10 years old for a problem that has come about recently, taking into account we’ve seen more or less a flat line in A&E attendance.’
‘We have never stopped delivering out-of-hours care. Who do you think delivers out-of-hours care now? It is the GP. We deliver 90% of all activity in the NHS. But we are not trained to deliver emergency care. You do not want me chopping your leg off in the middle of the night.’
‘It’s demoralising for my profession to be on the front page of some of the newspapers with our feet up.’
She added that ‘many’ GPs across the country wanted to go back to the co-op system ‘mainly because you get a sense of solidarity and we want to do the best for our patients’.
‘Some are being blocked, some are desperate to do it but feel that they can’t because of the current workforce and we’ll see another exodus of GPs if they are forced to do it,’ she said.
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: ‘A&E services had a very bad winter, with additional pressures from flu, norovirus and very bad weather, which stopped some staff from getting into work and created additional pressures for older people in particular.’
‘What we do know is that we have come through the difficult period and data from the last five weeks has shown A&E is back on track, where it needs to be in treating patients in a timely manner.’