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Declining satisfaction with GP services should be a ‘wake-up call’ to the Government

by Beth Gault
30 March 2022

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It is ‘unsurprising’ that more people are dissatisfied with the NHS than are satisfied, and it should serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to the Government, GP leaders have said.

It comes after new research found that patient satisfaction with GP services has dropped by 30 percentage-points since before the pandemic.

The analysis looked at results from the British Social Attitudes Survey, which found that the proportion of patients satisfied with GP services went from 68% in 2019 to 38% in 2021.

There were 3,112 responses to the survey which was carried out across England, Wales and Scotland by the National Centre for Social Research in September and October last year.

Analysis of this survey by The King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust found that 42% of people were dissatisfied with GP services, and that this satisfaction level was now lower than any other NHS service apart from dentistry.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said the college was ‘extremely disappointed and saddened’ by the findings of the survey, and that it reflected ‘a service working under crippling staffing and resource pressures following the pandemic, which has pushed general practice and the wider NHS to its limits’.

He added: ‘GPs and patients want the same thing, and we share patients’ concerns about the difficulties they face in accessing GP appointments. It is vital that today’s report is not used as another opportunity to denigrate and demoralise hardworking GP teams, but that these findings serve as a wake-up call to Government and policy makers on the need for urgent action to boost the GP workforce so that there are enough GPs and practice team members to deliver safe, timely and appropriate care to all patients.

‘The GP workforce is no longer big enough to meet demand. Successive governments have failed to invest in our service and GP numbers have declined while our workload has escalated in volume and complexity. More GPs are in training than ever before – but when more are leaving the profession than entering it, we are fighting a losing battle.’

BMA chair of council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, added that it was ‘unsurprising’.

‘This is a direct consequence of a service which has been pushed to the edge of collapse with severe deficits – in staffing, in beds, in community services, in facilities and in equipment,’ he said.

‘These findings should be a wake-up call for a Government that has been woefully inadequate in its response to the crisis unfolding before them, despite being advised by the British Medical Association, doctors and other healthcare professionals that this would be the consequence of their lack of attention.’

Previously the highest rated

Historically, general practice has been the highest-rated service until 2018, when ratings dropped to 63% satisfaction, which was a record low at the time.

The top reasons given for the lack of satisfaction this year were waiting too long for a GP or hospital appointment (65%), staff shortages (46%) and Government funding (40%).

The three main priorities for respondents were making it easier to get a GP appointment, improving waiting times for planned operations and increasing the number of staff within the NHS.

Around 80% of people said they thought the NHS has a funding problem, which is the same as in 2019.

Dan Wellings, senior fellow at The King’s Fund said: ‘Our analysis reveals an unprecedented drop in public satisfaction with the NHS, which now stands at its lowest level in 25 years. People are often struggling to get the care they need and identified access to general practice, waiting times for hospital care and staff shortages as areas that need to improve. 

‘These issues have been exacerbated by the extraordinary events of the past two years but have been many years in the making following a decade-long funding squeeze and a workforce crisis that has been left unaddressed for far too long.’

It comes after BMA GP Committee England deputy chair Dr Kieran Sharrock said every practice should ‘realistically’ close its lists due to the workload pressures that general practice is facing.

The association and Jeremy Hunt earlier this month launched a new campaign to ‘rebuild general practice’ which will call on the Government to focus on recruitment, retention and safety.

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