Nine in ten GPs fear their practice will struggle to cope this winter

Nearly nine in ten GPs fear that their practice will struggle to cope this winter, with workload pressures and staff shortages chief among their concerns, a GPonline poll has found.

GP consulting room

The poll of 185 GPs found that 87% believed the practice where they worked would struggle to cope during the winter months, just 5% thought their practice would be able to manage and the remaining 8% said they didn't know if it would cope or not.

Meanwhile, only 1% of GPs think that the NHS as a whole will be able to manage demand this winter. Doctors say the NHS is facing ‘unprecedented’ patient needs, with over 98% of those surveyed saying they were worried it would struggle to cope. 

When asked about factors contributing to concerns about their practice's ability to cope an overwhelming majority - nearly 97% of respondents - cited workload as the key factor. A total of 87% said staff shortages would be an issue, while 77% said funding and staff illness were key concerns.

NHS winter plan

GPonline's poll highlighted fears that winter illnesses alongside the delivery of the COVID booster and flu vaccines will put unsustainable pressure on practices during the winter months, with GPs raising concerns about the impact this will have on patients.

Doctors highlighted that workload pressures were already so severe it felt like winter already. One GP said: ‘It feels like winter pressures now. I dread to think how it will be come winter. I'm definitely concerned over patients getting appropriate care.’

Another added: 'We are already struggling with complaints of no appointments in the middle of summer, so what will it be like in winter? It's unsustainable.'

Many other GPs said they were 'dreading' winter, with some saying that it was 'scary' to think about how the NHS would cope. 'It's going to be a nightmare,' one GP said.

One GP responding to the poll said: 'I dread to think how we will cope. I work eight sessions but in reality even now during the summer I can't take my two half days off because I have to try to catch up with paperwork. So what it will be like in the winter I cannot bear to think about.'

Workload pressures

Another added: 'The last two winters I have wanted to leave my job, having always loved being a doctor and a GP.'

The findings come after NHS England released detail of its winter plan for the NHS, focused on increasing 'capacity and operational resilience' in urgent and emergency care. Under the plans an additional 1,000 social prescribing link workers and health and wellbeing coaches and 1,000 additional care coordinators will be recruited to help support practices.

However, the RCGP said that the measures do not go far enough and 'urgent support' is needed to help practices ahead what is 'likely to be a very tough period' for general practice.

Meanwhile, BMA has raised ‘serious concerns’ about the workload invovled in the autumn COVID-19 booster campaign and argued that GPs are being underfunded as NHS England tries to 'deliver a booster programme on the cheap'.

GPs in London have also raised ‘substantial concerns’ about their capacity to deliver polio booster jabs to all children aged 1-9 in the capital during September at the same time as providing COVID and flu vaccinations.

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