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GPs are being caught up in the misery of austerity

Dr Kailash Chand

Life expectancy in the UK has risen steadily in recent decades. However, from 2011 the rate of increase started to slow in the UK compared with several other leading economies.

The Government’s austerity policies are playing havoc with the nation’s health, with unprecedented cuts to social care and primary care budgets. From 1978-79 NHS spend in real terms increased about 3.8% per year but from 2010 it increased at about 1.1% a year, significantly below the long term trend.

Life is getting more insecure and poorer for millions, in turn increasing the workload of GPs. Nearly all GPs surveyed last year said that their workload had risen in the past year as a result of their patients’ financial hardship

The findings demonstrate that people receiving welfare support because of illness or disability are struggling to cope with cuts to their financial support and are turning to their GPs for help.

This increased workload includes providing medical information for initial assessments, as well as helping patients with appeals. Adding salt to the wound, most of the advice GPs supplied is either ‘often’ or ‘usually’ ignored by Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Inflation-linked rises to NHS funding are not keeping pace with the avalanche of work facing general practices

The irony is that this is not part of NHS work – one would normally charge a fee, but these are people that are struggling with their money. It’s not only a reduction in GP’s income to provide such a service, but it also means you can’t be doing justice to your clinical priorities. It’s a patient contact that would otherwise not have happened. And it’s a 10 minute consultation, 15 minutes writing a report and planning it, not to mention the secretary’s time.

General practice as a whole is doing its best to cope with these challenges. The number of GP consultations a year has risen by an estimated 40 million since 2011. Another recent BMA survey of GPs revealed that many of them are now working beyond their contracted hours on a regular basis.

But while GPs are working harder than ever before, they are being hamstrung by declining resources that are undermining their ability to overcome the obstacles they face. It is self-evident that the inflation-linked rises to NHS funding are not keeping pace with the avalanche of work facing general practices. Another kick in the teeth is the recent Government pay offer – a real slap on the face for GPs at a time when understaffed and under-resourced primary care services are having to manage unprecedented levels of patient demand.

GPs are not luddites, they too want modernisation of primary care, not its destruction. But at this present time, it is essential the Government is honest about the money available to the NHS and that it targets the resources available to those with greatest need.

The Government must act before the health and social care system collapses entirely and the UK sinks to the bottom of life expectancy and health inequalities rankings.

Dr Kailash Chand is a retired GP in Tameside