Last year, over half a million patients were forced to find a new GP. The current crisis in the NHS raises the question of why the NHS in under so much strain and what more can be done to further support our GPs and practices to build a stronger NHS system.
In 2016, in order to combat the various strains on the NHS, the Graduate Practice Resilience Programme was implemented as part of the General Practice Forward View. The programme’s aims were to provide £40 million over the course of four years to support GP practices, boost the efficiency of services and ultimately, create a more resilient NHS system. The focus on producing a more resilient system is central to the Graduate Practice Resilience Programme’s initiative, to ensure practices can cope with the pressures of an increasing workload.
Nonetheless, the rising closures of practices necessitate more than a ‘resilient’ outlook within the NHS. A new investigation led by Pulse highlights that in 2018, nearly 140 surgeries closed their doors affecting approximately half a million patients.
Can We Pinpoint the Cause?
The investigation conducted by Pulse suggests the likely cause lies within the issue of recruitment. Dr Eamonn Jessup, a former partner in Prestatyn, North Wales suggests the workload within practices spirals, as practitioners of similar ages retire close to the same time.
He informed Pulse, “We were highly profitable, it was a very good functioning partnership. We had 18,500 patients in a seaside area with an elderly population…The problem was, four out of nine partners hit retirement age at the same time. One went ill, so he had to retire. And then I thought, I’m going to be 62, do I really want to have responsibility for 4,500 patients on my head? So we all decided to give our notice.”
Tower Hamlets LMC chair, Dr Jackie Applebee emphasised this, stating, “The system is creaking. The smaller practices – which patients prefer and which have good outcomes – are being lost because of the under-resourcing.”
Findings published by NHS Digital this year, underline this crisis of under resourcing within the NHS system and indicate a drop of 444 fully qualified, permanent GPs from 2018. The outcome means GPs must work longer shifts that surpass the safe limit, which could potentially endanger the lives of patients. Pulse’s survey on the workload of GPs demonstrates on average GPs are working 11 hours a day with full time family doctors handing more than 41 patients a day, going beyond the safe limit of 30.
Our Readers' Thoughts
The rising workload GPs face has prompted numerous suggestions from our readers; Mad Coope suggests, “We also need to be looking more closely at on line surgeries/advice sites which may reduce pressure on surgeries.”
Furthermore, to help better manage the working hours of GPs, Karen Lowe proposes an ‘earlier opening and later closing’, alongside the inclusion of a ‘Saturday morning surgery’.
Alternatively, Heather Harris reminds us of the importance of our own individual responsibility, “We also need everyone to think twice, before they go the doctors with things that can be dealt with at the chemist or just at home.”
Concerns pertaining to even being able to book an appointment are another reoccurring, prominent issue. Maureen Brain stated, “There's 9 doctors in my surgery - you still can't get an appointment for up to 3 weeks.”
For individuals with long term conditions, not being able to book an appointment can be even more frustrating and can lead to other implications. Johanne Evans-Hughes highlights this, “I am diabetic and sometimes have to wait over a week to see my diabetics GP.”
The current crisis in the NHS, following the shortage in GPs must therefore be addressed via alternative solutions to help support our medical practices. The adoption of more online medical services, a Saturday practice to balance out the working hours of GPs and more age diversity across all medical specialisms can help foster and build a stronger NHS system, through supporting those at the heart of the NHS, our GPs.