More than half of GPs and practice staff said they did not access the Government’s winter funding because of the lack of flexibility, according to a new RCGP report.
The survey of over 2,600 general practice staff, conducted between December and January, also showed that 35% did not access support due to the ‘arduous form-filling’ involved.
In light of these figures, the college calls on the Government to urgently commit to a ‘properly funded plan’ which helps GPs to respond to surges in demand, rather than offering reactive emergency funding pots.
Pulse’s recent ‘Best Laid Plans’ investigation into NHS England’s winter 2022/23 measures found that implementation has been patchy and not everyone has benefitted from their ICB’s financial support.
The RCGP’s Fit for Purpose: GP Pressures Report 2023, published in full on Friday, included recently reported figures showing that more than a quarter of survey respondents fear their practice could close, with almost 90% citing unmanageable workload as the top reason.
The survey results also suggested that outdated technology is holding GP practices back, with 42% of GPs and practice staff saying their IT suppliers and support services are not fit for purpose.
The report is based on results from the RCGP’s 2022 Infrastructure Survey which was carried out predominantly in England between 9 December 2022 and 13 January 2023, and received 2,649 responses.
It said: ‘Last autumn, the Government made emergency funding available to support general practice through the winter. However, more than half (57%) of respondents to the survey said they have not accessed winter support and funding because of a lack of flexibility in what the funding can be used for, and 35% had not due to the arduous form-filling involved in applying for it.’
On the Government’s emergency funding pots that have been announced over the last few years, the report said: ‘This support has typically been announced with relatively little forewarning, with practices required to negotiate lengthy, complex applications to access the funding at a time when workload is already intensifying.’
It added: ‘Providing an easily accessible pot of funding over winter may help, but this will not be enough to solve the challenges facing general practice. […] There needs to be a properly funded flexible plan to prepare general practice to deal with surges whenever they occur.’
The RCGP said a plan like this would allow practices to formulate long-term solutions to deal with pressures, with the sufficient number of clinical staff, sufficient space and the appropriate technology.
Highlighting the extraordinary pressures of this winter, the RCGP cited figures showing that 4.6 million (9%) more GP appointments were delivered in December and January compared to in 2019, while the number of fully qualified FTE GPs dropped by 843 over the same period.
Chair of the RCGP Professor Kamila Hawthorne said: ‘It is hard to think of a more challenging time in general practice, too many GPs are now finding their position untenable and are feeling too stretched to guarantee patient safety.’
She added: ‘Without general practice, the NHS won’t survive. We see a vast number of the patients that come to the NHS, and we deal with most of what people need from the health service.
‘If we’re not there, secondary care services will just be completely overwhelmed.’
In January GPs urged the Government to put in place ‘radical’ solutions to ease pressure on general practice and urgent care, such as purchasing remote care from abroad.
This report comes as NHS England announced changes to the GP contract last week which include increasing patient access but no extra funding.