Half of GP partners say their practice is less financially secure than a year ago

Nearly half of GP partners say the financial security of their practice has deteriorated in the past 12 months - and more than two thirds say recent contract funding hikes have yet to benefit them.

Partners' financial security in decline (Photo: Getty Images)
Partners' financial security in decline (Photo: Getty Images)

A total of 46% of GP partners responding to the latest GPonline opinion poll said that their practice felt less financially secure now than 12 months ago - with a further 40% reporting no change.

Just 10% of 136 GP partners who took part in the survey said their practice felt more financially secure than 12 months ago, with the rest unsure.

Meanwhile, 70% of partners responding to the survey said their practice had not seen a positive impact from funding increases through the GP contract in the past two years.

GP funding

The findings show that continuing financial uncertainty for GP partners continues to be a major factor driving a sharp decline in doctors willing to take on this role.

The number of GPs in partnership roles in England fell 3.2% in the year to September 2019, according to official data published last week by NHS Digital - and the number of GP partners in England has dropped by a staggering 13.7% since former health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised in 2015 to deliver an extra 5,000 FTE GPs by 2020/21 - a promise dropped by his successor.

Increasing financial uncertainty for GP partners comes despite a £238m contract overhaul in 2017/18, a £256m promised increase in funding in the 2018/19 GP contract deal for England and a £1bn increase in direct practice funding over five years promised through the five-year contract that began in April 2019 - backed with additional money for primary care networks (PCNs).

Contract funding has struggled to reverse a long-term decline in income for GP partners - with a BJGP study showing earlier this year that real-terms income for GP partners fell by 10% between 2008 and 2017 after adjusting for sessions worked.

GP recruitment

The most recent official income data show that GP pay rose overall in 2017/18 - albeit slightly below inflation - with the fastest rise seen among partners, suggesting that the downward trend is starting to turn around.

Comments from GPs responding to the GPonline survey, however, reflect the fact that for most this has yet to materialise.

One GP partner responding to the survey said: 'We are well down. Any small increases now come laden with lots of work for little reward. The premises fiasco doesn't help and lack of workforce and recruitment has led to increasing locum costs for cover.

'It is getting to the point where given stress and strain, lack of funding, hospital dumping work, extra work sometimes inappropriate decided from on high and poor pensions, means the job ain't worth doing. People are voting with their feet. Good luck to them as most like myself have given their lives to medicine and have gone above and beyond, but sadly has all come to nothing in the end and more a huge slap in the face.'

Practice workload

Another partner wrote: 'Our financial position only improved by good management and an increased list size. This has led to extra pressure and stress. We want less work not more money.'

Another GP partner said: 'The funding always follows excessive demands to offer onerous services. They tend to increase workload without enough funding. Hence less financial security. When I retire, who will be stupid enough to replace me?'

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: 'We know that one of the key pressures for GP partners comes from having to manage a business alongside caring for their patients, and practice finances are a key part of this.

'After a decade of underfunding, with last year’s overall investment in general practice representing just 8.1% of the NHS budget – falling far short of the BMA’s demand of 11%, these findings come as no surprise. This will of course have implications for individual practices as they do their best to maintain services to their patients.

'More recent funding pledges, including that secured in this year’s contract agreement both for core practice funding as well as for workforce expansion, will take time to be fully felt by practices, and it’s imperative that they receive all that they are entitled to as soon as possible.'

GPonline has reported on general election pledges, including plans for GP funding and the GP workforce in England - click here to find out how the parties' NHS promises compare.

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