More than half of GPs have expressed doubts around being able to manage upcoming patient demand as routine NHS services resume, according to a BMA study.
A survey of roughly 2,500 GPs last week, found that 57% are either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident with their ability to cope with the expected pressures, while only one in 10 feel ‘very confident’.
More than half (55%) said they noticed a ‘significant increase’ in patient demand last week (starting 25 May), though not quite at the levels of pre-March.
Last week, GPs took to Twitter to air concerns about this surge, with one saying he had experienced ‘the highest workload all year’. Some pointed to a backlog of routine work and ‘patients venturing out more’ as causes.
GPs are also worried about an ‘imminent’ surge in mental health-related cases, now that lockdown measures have eased.
While patient demand is set to increase, the number of working GPs could simultaneously fall in the coming months. Notably, 28% of GPs in the BMA survey, suggested they ‘plan to work fewer hours once normal services are resumed’. Another 39% expressly said this did not feature in their plans, while others could not commit either way.
Some GPs (16%) said they would look to either ‘leave the NHS’, ‘retire early’ or ‘work elsewhere’ once normal services resume, while just over half (53%) said it is not in their immediate plans.
Another 38% of GPs said they aim to ‘work more flexibly’ or ‘from home more’.
Despite worries over patient demand, most GPs (85%) said they felt the changes made in general practice in recent weeks and months have been ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ effective in combating the pandemic.
Though, more widely, seven in 10 surveyed said they lack confidence in the preparedness of the local health system in offering services, such as access to diagnostics.
GPs told Management in Practice’s sister publication, Pulse, that patients have been ‘dumped’ from secondary care into GP practices during the pandemic, while some have also complained of rejections and complications in making referrals.
Responding to the survey findings, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Doctors are rightly worried. The care they are able to offer non-Covid patients has worsened because of prioritising those with the virus, and they have little confidence that they can manage the surge in demand to come.
‘The Government must be honest with the public about the surge to come and start meaningful conversations with frontline clinicians about how we can, together, begin to tackle the backlog.
‘This will require transparency around capacity and the workforce crisis, he said, and the need to ‘invest in infrastructure that can meet the healthcare needs of patients’.