A report by the House of Commons public accounts committee, Access to General Practice in England, warns that there are ‘serious problems requiring serious solutions’ in general practice.
The stark warning about the depth of the GP crisis from MPs comes just days after the BMA warned that one in 10 GP practices were financially unsustainable, and GPonline revealed that NHS England officials had declared more than 20% of practices in parts of England 'vulnerable'.
The parliamentary public spending watchdog said the DH and NHS England ‘appear to have been complacent about general practice’s ability to cope’ with the steady rise in demand coupled with huge workforce problems.
The report identifies five major problems with access to general practice, including warnings that there are not enough GPs across the country and unacceptable regional variation in staff levels.
GP workforce crisis
Demand for general practice has been outstripping capacity over the last decade, the PAC warned, and access to GPs is skewed in favour of older, white and more affluent patients.
The government should now undertake a detailed review of general practice in England to address the 'looming crisis', it recommended.
Many older, more experienced GPs are choosing to leave the profession, contributing to workforce problems that are exacerbated by it being too difficult for returners to come back and NHS England and Health Education England (HEE) struggling to recruit trainees.
The report urges the government to report back to the PAC by December this year, setting out how it plans to reduce the number of GPs leaving the profession early and attract more trainees.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the PAC, said: ‘There is a looming crisis in general practice. For too long staffing levels have failed to keep pace with the growth in demand and too little has been done to close the gap.
‘These are serious problems requiring serious solutions. Government accepts action is necessary but we must have confidence this action will result in the best possible outcome for taxpayers.’
GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘This important independent report vindicates the BMA’s repeated warnings about the depth of the crisis confronting general practice.
‘GP services are being overwhelmed by rising patient demand, especially from an ageing population with complex, chronic medical conditions that require longer and more frequent appointments to deal with. GP practices simply do not have the staff or resources to cope with this pressure.'
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘This report echoes what we have been saying for a long time through our Put patients first: Back general practice campaign – that urgent measures need to be taken to reverse declining investment in our service and address the recruitment crisis in general practice.
‘In the longer term, we are calling on the government to increase investment into general practice to 11% of the NHS budget, and for thousands more GPs over the course of this parliament so that we can continue to deliver the safe care our patients want, need and deserve.’
A DH spokeswoman said: ‘As this report acknowledges, we are taking wide-ranging action to improve GP access as part of our commitment to a safer, seven-day-a-week NHS.
‘We have agreed a new GP contract that will see record investment in general practice and we are enabling patients to see a GP at evenings and weekends, as well as improving access through telephone and video consultations.
‘The number of GPs recruited rose last year and we will boost numbers further with 10,000 new primary care staff, including 5,000 doctors in general practice, by 2020.’
An NHS England spokesman said: 'We know primary care is under pressure and we are investing £1bn over four years to help transform services for patients, GPs and the wider workforce. There are over five thousand more full time equivalent GPs than ten years ago, while schemes like the Prime Minister’s GP Access Fund are further helping to improve access to general practice.
'We will soon announce more plans aimed at supporting GPs, tackling workload and ensuring high quality primary care remains at the forefront of NHS services.'