Responding to latest GP workforce data for January 2022, the BMA doctors’ union says the declining number of GPs shows no signs of abating without a workable plan to recruit and retain NHS staff.
Dr Farah Jameel, General Practitioners Committee (GPC) England chair at the BMA, said: ‘At a time of significant upheaval, long waiting lists and increasing sickness in our communities, it is a terrible indictment of the current state of the NHS that highly qualified GPs are leaving the profession in such large numbers.
‘The latest data show that over the last year England has lost the equivalent of 279 fully qualified full-time GPs, with 91 having left in the last month alone.
‘This loss of 91 GPs works out as the equivalent of more than 200,000 patients having lost their family doctor between December and January – while at the same time we have gained 130,598 new patients.
‘The immense loss of these colleagues will be sorely felt across the entire health and social care system, by patients who will wait longer for treatment, and by staff who will stretch themselves even thinner serving increasing numbers of patients to the detriment of care quality.
‘It is clear that an emergency rescue plan is urgently needed in general practice. Workforce planning has to be the most important strategic priority for policy makers.
‘It is time that the NHS puts its workforce first, for without a workforce there will be no service left.
‘Pressures in general practice continue to escalate with no signs of abating.
‘We have lost the equivalent of 1,608 fully qualified full-time GPs in the last seven years, despite the fact that the average number of patients each GP is responsible for has risen by 16 per cent – an average of 300 more patients per GP – since then.
‘The government has recognised the huge backlog of patient need in secondary care but has provided no equivalent plan to address the mounting pressure in primary care, even though it is up to primary care to look after patients who are unable to access secondary care services.
‘Without a plan to properly support staff in general practice, no inroads can be made into the hidden backlog of unmet need, which is causing untold distress to patients and the doctors who care for them.
‘Without a workable plan to recruit and retain NHS staff, escalating pressures will inevitably drive more GPs to the brink of exhaustion and burnout.
‘According to a recent BMA survey, almost two-thirds (60 per cent) of GP respondents said they are currently suffering from stress, burnout, or other mental health conditions relating to or made worse by their work or study.
‘Furthermore, nearly seven in ten working in general practice (68 per cent) said that workforce supply shortages were highly influential in their thoughts about leaving the health service.
‘This is therefore not a problem which is confined to the immediate present; it is an issue that will escalate unless the government intervenes.
‘With the contract changes announced by NHS England and NHS Improvement this week for general practice in England, GPs see no end in sight to the pressures they are facing and patients will reap the consequences with worsening access to GPs, rationing of services and the emergence of a two-tier healthcare system.
‘With no flexibility afforded to practices to employ the professionals that they need and can realistically find locally, GPs and their teams lack the support they need to care for their patients.
‘And by failing to offer practices something as simple as reimbursement to cover additional costs for national insurance contributions, a tax aimed at funding the NHS, has become a tax on care itself.
‘The result will be fewer members of staff to care for the growing needs of patients, leading to it becoming even more difficult to provide the safe, high quality care patients so desperately need and deserve.
‘Doctors know that in medicine, as in wider society, prevention is better than cure.
‘The government must recognise the wisdom of this logic by acknowledging that it cannot tackle the backlog of care, nor the future healthcare needs of this country, without addressing longstanding recruitment and retention issues in general practice.
‘It must respond with emergency support for general practice, delivering tangible changes that recognise the scale of challenges we face, and providing the levers which will allow GPs to deliver high quality, safe patient care in the context of rising and deeply distressing patient acuity.’
Meanwhile, the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) is extremely concerned at the number of suicides revealed by a General Medical Council report into deaths of doctors while under investigation for their practice.
The report states that over the 3-year period (1st Jan uary 2018 – 31st December 2020) 29 doctors died while under GMC investigation or monitoring.
Twenty of these were from natural causes, five were confirmed as suicide.
GP Dr Liz Croton, a member of DAUK’s GP Committee, said: ‘DAUK has supported a number of doctors undergoing GMC investigation over the years. We are aware of how distressing this process is for individuals and their families.
‘We welcome this report from the GMC and we would support any process that aims to learn from these tragic events to better support doctors undergoing investigation.’
DAUK Chair Dr Jenny Vaughan said: ‘Investigations have to be thorough – but so does the need to ensure the psychological wellbeing of the doctor under investigation.
‘The tragedy of someone taking their own life is a devastating event and must be avoided, as far as possible.
‘Urgent legislative reform is needed as this should allow greater flexibility to resolve concerns more quickly.
‘Publishing these findings is a positive step forward. The government should ensure reform of the GMC and its Fitness to Practice procedures is brought forward as a top priority.’
- GPs in England’s primary care networks (PCNs) will be required to open from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays from October under new enhanced access arrangements.
The plans were revealed this week as part of the GP contract updates for 2022/23, which include changes to both the core GP Contract and the Network Contract DES.
They will require GPs to provide ‘a range of general practice services’, including ‘routine’ services ‘in line with patient preference and need’.
It remains unclear how the service will be funded.