The majority of GP practices in England told the BMA in a recently conducted survey they would consider temporarily suspending new patient registrations to focus on delivering safe care to their current patients.
Who can blame them for considering such an option, to ensure they provide safe care to those patients already on their list?
It’s high time health secretary Jeremy Hunt walked the talk and took action to address this growing crisis. Promises of extra GPs have not been delivered, while funding increases are nowhere near enough to address the fundamental problems.
Anyone who has visited their GP recently will be aware of the pressures: the struggle to get an appointment, the difficulty of seeing the same GP more than once, the rush to get you out of the door for the next patient. The failure to acknowledge the crisis facing GP services – under-resourced, over-stretched shells of their former selves, struggling to keep pace with patient demand despite the efforts of their staff – could finish off general practice, ‘the jewel in the crown of the NHS’, in the next few years for good.
While the demand is rising, the Government has failed to provide the support local GP practices desperately require. Funding for general practice has been flatlining for years. Many practices do not have enough staff, resources or adequate buildings. It is not surprising the public is becoming frustrated at the lack of appointments and delays getting treatment.
The future of the NHS relies on robust general practice
For the past two years Mr Hunt has been promising to alleviate the pressures by pledging more money and making proposals to help ease workload and recruit an extra 5,000 GPs. But recent figures show the number of GPs is falling – not rising – with many retiring early or moving abroad.
The future of the NHS and patient care relies on having robust general practice services, yet the past decade has seen a political assault on general practice to weaken it. The whole concept of federated organisations, as envisaged in the Five Year Forward View, creates economies of scale that are designed to finish off traditional general practice and have it taken over by the private sector, by the likes of Virgin care.
It is exactly because of this disastrous situation that the GPC sought the views of coalface GPs for a way forward . The Government must face up to this challenge, be frank with the public about what needs to be done, and resource primary care properly.
Dr Richard Vautrey, newly elected GPC chair, articulated the anger and warnings from the profession eloquently and clearly when he said: ‘The time for warm words has long been over.
‘Politicians must take this survey as a clear, serious warning from those who know the most about what it is really like to work in local GP service. Promises must be put into action before irreversible damage is done to the fabric of general practice.’
We cannot stand by and watch general practice slide into permanent decline.
GPs have answered, it’s time for action.
Dr Kailash Chand is a retired GP from Tameside and is honorary vice-president of the BMA