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GP workforce inequalities ‘as wide as ever’, finds study

GP workforce inequalities ‘as wide as ever’, finds study

GP workforce inequalities ‘remain as wide as ever’, with the number of GPs per patient reducing in the most deprived areas and growing in the most affluent areas.

The analysis, carried out by the University of Cambridge on behalf of BBC Newsnight, found that disparity in the distribution of GPs in England increased from 2015 to 2019 and remained on that level since.

‘In the most deprived areas the number of GPs per 10,000 patients reduced from 5.6 to 5.3 from 2015 to 2022, but in more affluent areas the number of GPs per 10,000 patients increased from 5.6 to 5.8,’ the report said.

‘This means that an average practice of 10,000 patients in an affluent area would have on average have about 2.5 days more GP time per week than those in the most deprived area.’

‘If we take those practices in the most deprived and those practices in the least deprived area, we can see that while there wasn’t much difference in 2015 the gap has widened over time,’ the researchers concluded.

‘The data shows that primary care workforce inequalities remain as wide as ever,’ they added.

However, the research also found that ‘more deprived areas tend to have more practice nurses’.

‘The number of nurses per 10,000 patients has increased slightly in more deprived areas (from 2.5 to 2.7 from 2015 to 2022) and in more affluent areas the number of nurses has stayed roughly the same (about 2.3),’ the report said.

‘This may be to compensate in part of a lack of GPs, but the difference is much smaller (about 1 day per week per average practice of 10,000 patients).’

Dr John Ford, clinical lecturer in public health at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: ‘If we look over the past seven years, practices in richer areas have gained on average about one day a week of additional GP time. Whereas practices in poorer areas have actually lost about a day and a half of GP time per week.’

A Department of Health and Social Care told the BBC that its policies ‘will improve access to general practice across the country, including in the most deprived areas’, with NHS England ‘working with up to 400 practices this year to deliver care to patients in the most deprived areas’.

Pulse’s Lost Practices investigation recently found that deprived practices face greater pressures that force them to close more than practices in affluent areas.

On average, Pulse found that practices that close for good are in postcodes that have a ranking of around 3.81 on the Index of Multiple Deprivation, compared with a national average for practices of 4.41 (with 1 being most deprived, 10 being least deprived).

The House of Commons health and social care committee has also warned that significant pressures face under-doctored, highly deprived areas are compounded by ‘unfair funding mechanisms’ that fail to account for deprivation.

And in September, NHS England urged integrated care boards (ICBs) to prioritise GP spending in areas with deprivation, inequalities and the ‘most serious’ recruitment challenges.