The opening day of the BMA’s conference has delivered another warning shot to politicians about the folly of pushing ahead with their seven-day experiment in general practice: they now have no excuse for not rethinking their so called ‘new deal’ for GP services.
In his speech to the conference, the chair of the BMA, gave a very clear response to Jeremy Hunt’s announcement on Friday which called for 12-hour, round the clock GP opening: ‘Who are they kidding?’
Current GP services are badly overstretched, a view voiced by anyone with any form of contact with general practice. We do not have the resources or the staff to keep pace with patient demand during routine opening as it stands now, let alone deliver a magically extended service which somehow is supposed to appear in the next few years. In many areas of the country patients are rightly becoming frustrated with a lack of appointments despite GP practices working flat out to produce more consultations year on year.
As one of the BMA leads on GP workforce issues, I can testify that the situation on the ground is at the moment incredibly bleak.
In 2014, there were more than 450 vacancies for GP trainee posts, with serious shortages in the Midlands and the North where as many as a third of trainee spots were unfilled.
At the other end of the career spectrum, a BMA survey of more than 15,500 GPs found that a third of GPs were considering retirement in the next five years. It is hardly surprising that the Coalition Government missed its own recruitment targets for the last five years, and that we do not have the staff to cope with patient demand.
In this climate, it is difficult to see how anyone can deliver the 5,000 extra GPs by 2020. It takes 10 years to train a GP but this is an issue which the government seems utterly oblivious too.
GPs and the BMA are not taking any pleasure from this mess. We have finally persuaded ministers to begin prioritising schemes aimed at helping GPs who have taken career breaks to seed up retraining so they can get back into the workforce. We are working with the RCGP and others on plans to encourage more graduates to enter medical profession.
But these alone will not address the problems facing general practice and patient care.
As Dr Porter asked: ‘When will they provide substance over rhetoric and recycled ideas, to focus on the detail of how they will support GPs already burnt out from overwork, in a service where more than 10,000 GPs are predicted to leave in the next five years?’
These are the answers we need. And we need them now.
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni is chair of the GPC education, training and workforce subcommittee and a GP in Sheffield