Around 20% of GP partners have asked staff to wear more layers instead of using the heating in their practice this winter due to rising energy costs, a snapshot survey of Pulse readers has found.
The survey of 1,000 GPs also found 41% of partners were reducing energy use, 13% were dropping sessions and around a fifth (22%) were freezing recruitment to mitigate cost increases.
This comes as GPs and specialist medical accountants warned ahead of the winter that practices could face losses of tens of thousands of pounds due to the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation.
Some survey respondents said they had already faced significant increases to their energy bills, while others said they were on a fixed tariff until later this year and had not seen the full impact yet.
Medical accountant Andy Pow told Pulse that research carried out by the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants (AISMA), of which he is a board member, found 59% of accountants thought their GP practice clients’ energy costs would go up 10%, and 87% by over 5%.
‘The biggest issue we have is the fact that the core funding only really went up by a small amount in April – the uplift to the global sum – and the rest of the funding has gone into PCNs so at practice level the core funding is very, very low,’ Mr Pow said.
He added that while the energy costs ‘aren’t great’, the wage bill – which represents around 60 to 70% of overall costs – is the more significant challenge for practices at the moment.
Pulse’s survey found 31% of GP partners said they had been unable to award the Review Body for Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration recommended 4.5% uplift to salaried GPs, while 34% said they had been unable to award the pay rise to other staff.
In July last year the DDRB’s recommendations were accepted by the Government of a 4.5% pay rise for salaried GPs, and at least a £1,400 pay rise for staff, were accepted by the Government.
But GP partners remain locked into the existing five-year agreement which gives them just a 2% year-on-pay rise – and the Government refused to adjust practice funding to help them meet the DDRB recommendation, despite the pay body urging it to work with the BMA to ‘address the issues’.
Mr Pow said: ‘If the funding is only going up by on average 1-2% and costs are going up 4.5%, then you’ve got cost increases going up more than income going up, which essentially means profits are going to come down for partners – or they have to make efficiencies in some way.’
Commenting on the findings, Liverpool LMC chair Dr Rob Barnett said that there was ‘no doubt’ practices had been affected by rising energy bills, and in some cases ‘people have reported their electricity costs increasing five or six fold compared to the previous year’.
‘The other thing which is affecting practices is that locally commissioned services (local enhanced services) have not seen any increase in funding, probably since pre Covid, and they do account for a reasonable amount of funding coming into practices,’ he said.
He added: ‘Where practices have funded [the 4.5% uplift], this has come at a cost to partners and it is partners that have invariably taken the hit. So, they have done their best to keep things going…but we have seen situations where practices that have clearly been struggling have started to wonder whether they should continue providing services at all.’
Pulse’s survey also revealed that around 22% of GP consultations are currently mental or physical health problems caused or exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.
The survey was open between 23 November and 5 December 2022, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. A total of 469 GP partners working across the UK responded to these particular questions. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for an £250 John Lewis voucher as an incentive to complete the survey. The survey is unweighted, and we do not claim this to be scientific – only a snapshot of the GP population