CMO demands action on GP shortages in deprived areas

England's CMO has urged the government to review whether GP shortages in some of the country's most deprived areas are driven by problems with current GP funding arrangements.

Professor Chris Whitty (Photo: Tolga Akmen/Getty Images)

The latest annual report from CMO Professor Chris Whitty focuses on health in coastal communities - and calls for a national strategy to address health and wellbeing in these areas.

Professor Whitty's report highlights serious health challenges and poor outcomes in coastal areas, along with a 'mismatch between health and social care worker deployment and disease prevalence in coastal areas' that it says must be addressed.

The report urges the government to 'review whether current funding arrangements are a disincentive to GP, nursing and other NHS and social care workers moving to coastal areas'.

Health inequality

GP and specialty training placements in coastal areas should be increased, the report recommends, and the government must balance the 'coastal deficit in the location of new medical schools' with a programme to 'actively recruit in coastal communities to existing medical schools'.

The CMO's report also calls for the development of more granular data to highlight the extent of health inequalities faced in coastal areas.

Professor Whitty said: 'Coastal areas are some the most beautiful, vibrant and historic places in the country. They also have some of the worst health outcomes with low life expectancy and high rates of many major diseases.

'These communities have often been overlooked by governments and the ill-health hidden because their outcomes are merged with wealthier inland areas. A national strategy informed by local leaders and experts will help reduce inequalities and preventable ill health.

GP shortage

'If we do not tackle the health problems of coastal communities vigorously and systematically there will be a long tail of preventable ill health which will get worse as current populations age.'

The report highlights increased prevalence for a range of QOF domains in coastal areas - and points to a significant shortfall in GP numbers.

It says that between '2015 and 2019 there were, on average, 2,127 patients per full-time equivalent GP in coastal areas compared with 2,079 patients per FTE GP in non-coastal areas' - despite coastal populations being older and more deprived.

Responding to the report, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: 'I welcome this report from Professor Chris Whitty, which raises important points on inequalities that we must tackle to improve the health of coastal communities - and I will carefully consider these recommendations.

'Those living in coastal areas clearly face different sets of challenges to those inland but everybody, no matter where they live, should have similar opportunities in education, housing, employment and health.

'We are committed to levelling up across the nation and the new Office for Health Promotion - launching in the autumn - will drive and support the whole of government to go further in improving people’s health.'

GPonline reported last year that GPs in England's most deprived areas care for 10% more patients with 7% less funding. The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme has also been uneven across the country - with deprived areas more likely to have lower coverage of vaccination as the government rolls back pandemic restrictions. 

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