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Economic downturn to increase pressure on surgeries, warn practice managers

22 December 2008

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UK general practice will face increased pressures as a result of the economic downturn, according to the latest Management in Practice survey.

Seven in 10 respondents to the survey of 220 practice managers, which was sponsored independently by the Royal Bank of Scotland, said they expected to see a drop in their practice’s profits next year.

Half of managers said their surgeries had seen a fall in income since last year, with many reporting that this was due to rises in expenditure – particularly energy costs and staff salaries.

Added to this was a concern over increased demand for GP services, with more unemployed, stressed and depressed patients seeking treatment.

One respondent to the survey, a practice manager from Inverclyde, said: “Being in an already deprived area, I feel this will add to people’s health problems, with increased anxiety and depression. General practice is already an extremely busy place to be without increasing attendances and demands from unhappy patients.”

Another manager said rising expenditure meant his GP surgery would put pressure on practice staff: “This increase in demand will have to be dealt with by existing GPs, since employing salaried GPs and locums will not be an option financially,” he said.

When asked in what area they had seen the biggest single rise in expenses in the last year, most cited energy costs (39%) and staff salaries (35%). More than half (51%) said that their staff costs, as a percentage of the practice’s overall expenditure, had increased when compared with the previous year.

The survey suggests extended surgery opening hours mean many practice managers are working longer for less – 41% of respondents said that, compared to last year, they were working longer hours for the same pay. Only 11% said they were working longer for more pay.

One in five managers said that they had had to reduce the rate of staff salary increases this year. Some reported that salary increases could only be afforded by their GP partners taking a cut in their own incomes (one respondent said this was the fourth year in a row the practice had resorted to this).

Responding to these survey results, a British Medical Association spokesperson acknowledged the issue of increased demand on a limited workforce: “We agree that the downturn will have an impact on general practice. There is likely to be an increase in consultation rates, and pressure from government to avoid inflationary rises in public-sector pay could limit practices’ ability to expand their workforce sufficiently to meet demand.”

To read the full survey report, see:
Crunch time? Results of the MiP / RBS Finance Survey

For more on MiP surveys, see: