Almost a third of GP practices have been forced to stop routine care in the past year due to overwhelming demand, a Pulse survey has revealed.
The survey of 400 GP partners surveyed found that 30% have had to stop taking bookings for routine appointments at any point from June 2022 to June 2023.
The GPs, from across the UK, said this was due to staff shortages and excess demand across general practice, while some said it resulted in abuse from patients.
The number of appointments carried out in general practice in England increased from 25.9 million in June 2022 to 29.4 million in June 2023. This compares with 23.8 million in June 2019, before the Covid pandemic began.
Meanwhile, the number of permanent fully qualified GPs in England decreased from 26,859 in June 2022, to 26,521 in June 2023 – and this is way down on the 29,364 in September 2016.
Hertfordshire GP Dr Sanober Haq said ‘during the holiday time period, only two doctors at a time are allowed to take annual leave and to manage workload we reduce routine appointments of doctors’.
Instead, Dr Haq said they ‘increase routine appointments of ANPs, physiotherapists and pharmacists’ so that GPs can focus on ‘managing on-the-day doctor appointments’.
Dr Haq added the idea behind this is to ‘prevent burnout for GPs’.
A GP from Wiltshire, who wished to remain anonymous, said her practice is ‘incredibly busy, as busy as winter almost, and generally can only offer routine appointments in two weeks’ time’.
She added this is exacerbated by staffing levels currently being lower with people going on leave.
But Kent GP Dr Zishan Syed said halting routine appointments ‘only leads to abuse and the regulatory complex happily destroys any GP that tries’.
He said: ‘All the Government cares about is reducing secondary care waiting lists. GPs are seen as an unlimited resource to be abused to achieve this and patients do not value the service.
‘They will tolerate telephone appointments from hospital where bloods are not done and scripts not signed and expect GPs to pick up this work for free.
‘There is an expectation fuelled by the media for face-to-face everything. Hospitals are exempted for some bizarre reason, but they need to be doing better.’
This comes as at a time when practices are facing increasing physical, verbal and social media abuse.
Practices are also now contractually obliged to offer a response to patients the first time they get in contact, which includes ‘communicating with the patient’ or directing them to appropriate services.
Have you had to stop taking bookings for routine appointments at any point in the past 12 months? Yes 123 No 277 Don’t know 8 Total 408