GP workload 'may be increasing' admits health minister

Rising numbers of patients and a decline in access to convenient appointments suggest GP workload 'may be increasing', a senior health minister said this week, in comments dismissed as 'disappointing' by a top GP.

Health minister Alistair Burt
Health minister Alistair Burt

Primary care minister Alistair Burt highlighted a 1% rise in patients registered with GPs in 2016 and patient survey data showing a fall in access to convenient appointments, and said: 'Taken together, this suggests that GP workload may be increasing.'

The Conservative minister was responding to a written question from Labour MP for Great Grimsby Melanie Onn, asking what steps were being taken to assess 'the effects on general practices of increases in the number of patients presenting at GP surgeries in the last 12 months'. She also asked for details of steps to ensure GP practices could cope.

Mr Burt pointed to an increase from 28.6m patients registered with GPs in 2015 to 28.9m in 2016, and patient survey data.

He said the government was 'committed to giving GPs the support they need so they can spend more time with patients', pointing to the £220m GP contract deal for 2016/17, plans to recruit 5,000 more GPs and the GP access fund.

GP funding

But Londonwide LMCs medical director Dr Tony Grewal told GPonline he was disappointed to hear such an 'anodyne' response from the minister when general practice was clearly in crisis.

Earlier this month, a study by University of Oxford researchers found that soaring levels of GP workload had pushed the profession 'close to saturation point'

'Given we have substantive evidence of a significant increase in GP workload and of inadequate workforce levels to deliver that, I would have hoped for a less anodyne response, and for something that GPs could look at to show our concerns are being taken seriously.'

Dr Grewal said there was 'a state of emergency in general practice'. He said the GP support package the government is expected to unveil this month needed to offer 'substantive and substantial' support for GPs, and must not just be tokenism.

He said Londonwide LMCs would be 'helping practices to look at what the package means and their viability and what they can do to maintain it'.

'You cannot build something new on inadequate foundations, warned Dr Grewal. 'This has to be about delivering general practice and primary care in a way that is sustainable, and then thinking about new models of care on top of that, not the other way around.'

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