Soaring primary care demand key factor in NHS winter pressure

Doctors rank high demand on primary care services in the top three reasons that will leave the NHS struggling to cope this winter, a BMA poll shows.

More than three quarters (78%) of 457 doctors polled by the BMA said that the NHS was in a worse position to cope with winter pressures this year than in the previous three years.

High occupancy rates of hospital beds, delayed discharge from hospital and overall demand on primary care services were rated as the top three factors that would put the health service under pressure this winter.

Doctors responding to the poll said higher personal workload, increased emergency admissions and difficulty providing a high quality of care were the top three things that characterised their experience of winter pressures in the NHS.

NHS demand

The findings come as NHS officials recognise that demand on the health service has hit record levels, a point acknowledged via social media by NHS England director of communications Simon Enright over the weekend.

BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said: 'These figures are cause for serious concern as while there is an ever increasing demand for health services across the NHS, this is hugely exacerbated during the winter months.  Demand is now so great that hospitals are experiencing a year round crisis, with a lack of available beds preventing the system from coping with a seasonal spike in demand.

'Front-line staff are working flat-out but the system can’t cope with the number of patients needing to move through acute care, as the entire system is congested. It is vital that there is sufficient capacity across the entire health and social care system, including in accident and emergency departments, general practice and social and community care. Doctors are particularly concerned that a lack of investment and resource in social care is increasingly impacting on the provision of healthcare, especially in winter.

GP capacity

'Short-term fixes, however well meaning, will only get us so far. We have to look at the long-term funding, capacity and recruitment issues facing the system as a whole if we are to get to grips with the pressures hospitals face year in, year out, but which are compounded during the winter months.'

The BMA warnings over the impact of winter pressures follow a series of warnings from the union about the soaring workload GPs currently face. Eight out of 10 GPs face unmanageable workload, according to a huge poll of over 5,000 doctors.

Writing for GPonline last month GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that GPs in every corner of England were buckling under pressure.

Photo: iStock

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