BBC highlights pressure on GPs in Panorama documentary

A Panorama documentary to be screened on BBC1 on Wednesday will highlight the pressures facing GPs as demand increases while the number of GPs continues to fall.

(Photo: monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images)
(Photo: monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images)

An analysis by the Nuffield Trust for the BBC has shown the number of GPs per 100,000 people has fallen from nearly 65 in 2014 to 60 last year.

Meanwhile, analysis from the Health Foundation published today reveals that patient numbers per GP in the most deprived areas are 15% higher than those in the least deprived.

The Panorama documentary GPs: Why Can’t I Get an Appointment?, which is on BBC1 at 7.30pm on Wednesday, talks to GPs and patients and reveals that many GPs believe that the situation is putting lives at risk.

Dr Carmel Boyham Irvine, a GP in Plymouth for 26 years, told the programme that she now deals with 50 to 60 patients a day either on the phone or face to face. She said the situation is simply ‘not safe’.

She is one of two GP partners at her practice when there used to be four. They have been trying to recruit another partner for five years with no success and the practice’s patient list has increased by 1,300 in that time. She told Panorama that the sustainability of the practice was now ‘questionable’.

GP numbers

Latest GP workforce figures published earlier this year showed that the overall number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs fell by 27 during 2018, despite government efforts to recruit 5,000 more GPs over the past three and a half years. The number of fully-qualified FTE GPs, excluding registrars, showed a more dramatic drop of almost 600 doctors (2%) from 29,190 in 2017 to 28,596 at the end of 2018.

The situation with GP partners is even worse, with almost 1,000 FTE partners lost to the profession in 2018 alone.

Meanwhile, a GPonline poll in January revealed that most GPs have worked beyond the level considered safe by the BMA during 2018. BMA guidance says that 'up to 25 routine doctor-patient contacts a day could be deemed safe', with GPs at an 'unsafe working level' if they carry out more than 35 routine patient contacts in a day

However, the GPonline survey found that 83% of GPs had carried out more than 30 consultations in a single working day during 2018, while more than half (53%) had carried out more than 40 consultations. One in four had completed more than 50 in a day and 14% had carried out more than 70 consultations in a day.

The Panorama programme features a short excerpt from GPonline’s coverage of the east London Save our Surgeries protests that took place in 2014. The protests aimed to highlight ongoing funding pressures that were putting practices in the area at risk of closure. You can view that full video report here.

  • GPs: Why Can’t I get an Appointment is on BBC1 at 7.30pm on Wednesday 8 May (excluding Northern Ireland). After it has been broadcast the programme will be available here.

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