Dire workforce crisis turning general practice ‘upside down’, UK GPC chair warns

Politicians must listen to GPs’ concerns about the ‘severe’ workforce crisis in general practice as teams face a ‘daunting mountain of unmet need’ with inadequate support, the BMA UK GP chair has warned.

Dr Phil White
Dr Phil White, chair BMA UK GP committee

Welsh GP Dr Phil White, who is also chair of GPC Wales, told delegates at this year’s UK LMCs conference in York that GPs’ ‘personal working worlds had become increasingly difficult’ and that they were having to deal with increased patient demand with a ‘dwindling workforce’, turning things ‘upside down’.

Dr White insisted that the profession was ‘in crisis’ before the outbreak of the pandemic and that GPs had ‘given everything to weather the storm’ over the past two years. But he said practices now needed extra resources to cope with unrelenting pressure.

The call comes as the GMC last week argued that the government had to give greater priority to staff retention - insisting that impressive trainee recruitment was not a short-term fix to dwindling numbers of doctors.

GP workforce

Dr White said: ‘We have thousands more patients on our practice lists. We regularly break records for numbers of appointments booked and patient contacts. And we have to do all of this with a dwindling workforce and our hands tied behind our back by a lack of resource, the endless cuts in community services and blockages across secondary care.’

He added: ‘If our politicians don’t listen now – when everything we know and understand turns upside down like this – when will they?’

Dr White also used his annual report to criticise factions of the UK press and politicians that accused practies of being ‘shut’ during the pandemic, when GPs were risking their health to treat patients. He also called for improved collaboration between the BMA's four UK GP committees.

He said: ‘General practice has maintained services, working harder than ever for our communities, despite what the press and the Westminster government think. Methods of remote consultation were rolled out at speed, enabling us to cope with patient demands with minimum health risks to both patients and staff.

‘There were distancing restrictions, increased levels of disinfection, use of PPE, and windows wide open. We have three governments who accept that the restrictions were for patient and staff safety. But one government has sought to blame general practice for this. You don’t need me to tell you which one. Their reputation speaks for itself.'

GP committee changes

Dr White revealed work was already going on within the BMA to establish how the UK's four GP committees could better work together in future. He said: ‘GPCUK needs to change. Such is the diversity of contracts across the four nations that it no longer has a negotiating role, and, other than education, there is little commonality across the nations.

‘We have been in discussion for some time about such changes, and a working group has drafted the basis for such change. Part has been accepted by GPC UK at its last meeting, but we need to flesh out the details.’

GPonline reported last month that the GP workforce in England has slumped by more than 350 GPs over the past year. Despite this appointment numbers continue to remain high, with GP teams delivering 4m more appointments in March compared with the previous month.

The government was also recently criticised for throwing out an amendment to the Health and Care Bill, which has now received Royal Assent, that would have required the government to produce workforce estimates and targets every two years.

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