NHS England warned last week that rising costs and projected slow growth in funding mean the health service faces a £30bn funding gap by 2020, on top of the existing £20bn 'Nicholson challenge' efficiency target.
RCGP chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada has urged ministers to raise the proportion of NHS funding that goes to general practice from the current 9% to 10% as a matter of urgency.
She warned that underfunding of practices had already created a shortfall of 8,300 GPs, and warned that this could rise by around 7,500 over the next decade.
‘The fact that, in just eight years, we could see a shortfall of almost 16,000 GPs is truly shocking,’ Professor Gerada said.
She warned of longer waits in A&E and more last-minute cancellations of elective surgery if general practice continues to be allocated just 9% of the NHS budget despite 90% of contacts with patients occurring in primary care.
‘General practice is at the heart of the NHS and if it is left to wither, as is the case now, it could sow the seeds of an unprecedented disintegration of the NHS, both in primary care and secondary care,' said Professor Gerada.
‘Such is the key role that general practice plays, that if it starts to fall apart the impact will be felt across the rest of the health service, leading to longer waits in A&E and ever more last minute cancellations of elective surgery.
‘As a first step, ministers must move to protect patient care by increasing the funding for general practice to 10% of the NHS budget immediately, and they should work with us to help boost the number of medical graduates going into general practice.
‘Only by supporting general practice and allowing it to treat more patients in the community, can the government protect the NHS from catastrophe and ensure that the health service can meet the projected health needs of the population.’
In May, Health Education England, the new NHS education and training body, was launched with a long-term pledge to ensure 50% of medical students become GPs. Ministers have not set a deadline for delivering this target, but achieving it would mean England produces 400 extra GPs a year.