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Government needs open debate on GP workload issues

by Jess Hacker
6 October 2021

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Parliament should debate the increase in demand for GP services and the resulting impact on patients’ ability to safely access care, frontline doctors have argued.

A petition – published yesterday evening (5 October) by the Doctors’ Association UK and patient advocate group Healthwatch – outlined concerns that patients are ‘increasingly struggling to access safe GP care’ in a timely manner.

At the same time, GP teams are struggling to meet patient demand it said, with staff already exhausted from ‘spearheading the Covid (and flu) vaccination programmes’.

It warned that patients are therefore turning to NHS 111 and emergency departments for help, which is ‘heaping undue pressures’ on the whole system.

Dr Ellen Welch, a GP based in Cumbria and editorial lead for the DAUK, told Management in Practice: ‘GP access is the problem patients struggle with. The underlying reasons for this-are what we want the government to openly discuss.

‘GPs are not being lazy or closed as some sections of the media have proclaimed. GPs are in fact busier than ever, dealing with the demands created by the pandemic with a reduced workforce.’

Bedrock of the NHS

In the petition, the DAUK highlighted that both the Government and the NHS have recognised that GP care is the ‘bedrock’ of the NHS, with the latter claiming in its Forward View that ‘if general practice fails, the NHS fails’.

It also flagged that while the number of patients per practice is 22% higher than it was in 2015, the NHS does not have a GP workforce that has grown with this demand.

NHS GPs regularly manage up to 70 patients per day now, it said.

This comes as general practice teams face increasing levels of abuse from patients and criticism in the media.

Just under four weeks ago, a man was charged with assault after attacking four members of staff in a Manchester GP practice, with two taken to hospital and treated for head injuries with others suffering lacerations.

The BMA and Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM) co-signed a letter to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid criticising a ‘lack of central support, or public challenge by Government’ of increasing instances of violence.

Meanwhile, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) this week ruled that The Telegraph did not breach journalist code by publishing Allison Pearson’s recent ‘anti-GP columns’.