NHS England’s board has issued a stark warning that demand for GP appointments is at record levels and ‘outstrips’ capacity.
Papers released for a board meeting yesterday also revealed that NHS England will look into running a ‘high-profile communications campaign’ to educate patients on key changes such as the use of additional roles staff.
A document on ‘access to primary care’ said that ‘demand for primary care services has never been greater’ as the NHS emerges from the Covid pandemic.
It added: ‘Capacity in some areas, especially in rural or more deprived locations, is stretched and demand is outstripping supply.’
The document pointed to a 35 million increase in GP appointments in the 12 months ending July 2022 compared with the 12 months ending July 2019 – up from 310 million to 345 million.
Speaking at the board meeting, national director for primary care Dr Amanda Doyle said: ‘We’ve got a mismatch in the demand from patients and the workforce capacity available to meet that.
‘We need to address that workload – the workforce we have are feeling overwhelmed and therefore are less likely to stay and to stay full-time.’
The NHS England board also recognised the need for greater retention of GPs, admitting that while there has been increased recruitment of trainees, the number of fully-qualified full-time-equivalent GPs continues to fall.
Dr Doyle pointed out that even as GPs go through training, ‘at every step along the way there is some attrition’.
And she added: ‘Equally important or more important [than recruitment] is retention, we are losing qualified general practitioners faster than we can replace them.’
Board chair Richard Meddings added that the numbers of fully-qualified GPs is ‘actually flat to down’ and that this is ‘a real challenge’.
Meanwhile, the document added that ‘over the coming months’, NHS England will ‘explore the feasibility of running a high-profile communications campaign to help raise awareness of some of the key changes that have been introduced into primary care during the pandemic’.
It said this could include the use of the wider multidisciplinary team, community pharmacy and digital routes to contact general practice.
The board papers and meeting also revealed that:
- NHS England is ‘looking at how we develop integrated neighbourhood teams’, as recommended in the Fuller stocktake and recently backed by the BMA
- One of NHS England’s key priorities is taking ‘immediate action’ to make it ‘easier for patients to get in touch’ with their GP practice as patients are struggling to access services because they cannot through on the phone
- It will also look at making it ‘easier for patients to directly book’ appointments via the NHS app and online
- NHS England is working with the Government to address visa issues for IMG GP trainees
- It is also working with the Government on pensions flexibility to stop ‘perverse incentives’ for GPs to retire earlier
- Repurposed PCN incentive scheme funding can be used for ‘additional appointments and capacity to support provision of services based on local need, such as respiratory hubs’
And NHS England reiterated that unfunded pay deals combined with inflation may mean it will have to ‘completely revisit investment’ in primary care, as well as other key services.
The BMA said the numbers highlight the ‘immense pressure’ that practices are facing with rising demand but fewer GPs.
It follows claims from Dr Coffey that GP numbers have been ‘stable’ since the last election despite data showing numbers continue to fall.