This is an extremely distressing situation for patients and for GPs and their practice teams. Every patient should be able to register with their local family doctor, and GPs want to provide the best possible access and high quality care for all their patients.
No GP practice wants to close their list and turn away patients, even as a temporary measure. Unfortunately, what we are seeing now is a sad consequence of the desperate shortage of GPs in many parts of the country, with many practices finding it difficult to find replacements for those doctors that have retired. This is leaving general practice teetering on the brink of collapse and having a severe impact on the care we can provide for patients.
Family doctors are heaving under the strain of increasing patient demand, due to a growing and ageing population, and plummeting investment.
Over 90% of all NHS patient contacts take place in general practice for just 8.39% of the total UK NHS budget – the lowest it has ever been. Yet over the last decade the number of patient consultations has risen to an all time high and there are now 40 million more consultations in general practice than there were even five years ago.
GPs are routinely working 11 hours a day and seeing up to 60 patients a day to try and keep pace with demand. According to our research, 27m patients will have to wait more than a week to see a GP this year alone and 84% of GPs say they are worried about missing a serious condition in a patient due to the intense pressure of their workloads.
To ensure patients can get the level of service they deserve, we urgently need to recruit thousands more GPs. That is why we are calling on the four governments of the UK to increase general practice funding to 11% of the total NHS budget by 2017.
This would allow practices to employ more GPs and patients would not have to move to other practices further away from their homes.
But that is little consolation for the patients who are finding it hard to register with their local practice. Urgent action is needed to ensure that we have enough GPs to continue providing safe care for all patients.
Dr Maureen Baker is chair of the RCGP