Figures released by the RCGP on Thursday reveal the full extent of successive years of under-investment in general practice – with the amount spent per person in England dropping by 7% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2012/13, due to a combination of funding cuts and population growth.
For the third year running, says the college, GP surgeries in England have suffered a decrease in resources, while the amount of money going to hospitals continues to rise. In 2012/13, real-terms investment in general practice fell to £8,459m from £8,865m in 2009/10.
The college released its statement on GP funding to mark the start of the RCGP annual conference 2013 in Harrogate.
RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada warned that the cumulative effects of year-on-year decreases were having a 'disastrous' effect on patient care and called for emergency investment in general practice to protect services and patient safety.
'Our figures should send out a warning to government and the rest of the NHS that we will soon have a catastrophe on our hands if urgent action is not taken to reverse the decline in funding for general practice and provide GPs with an appropriate amount to spend on each patient every year.
'For years politicians, health professionals and patients alike have been saying that we must shift the centre of gravity of the health service away from hospitals, with more care delivered to patients closer to home, and a greater focus on prevention. But these figures show that we are in fact moving in the opposite direction.
'We are working our hardest to make sure that patients are not affected but the status quo is no longer an option. We must have an emergency package of additional investment for general practice to protect GP services and protect our patients from cuts to their care.'
The figures are drawn from comparisons of annual data produced by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
They support the findings of an RCGP poll conducted by ComRes in August this year, in which more than 80% of GPs said they had insufficient resources to provide high quality patient care and 47% had already reduced the range of services they provided. Over 70% predicted longer waiting times for GP appointments within the next two years.
But in the past week, the government has announced pilots of seven-day opening at practices in nine areas, and said that GPs would take responsibility for care of the vulnerable elderly 24-hours a day from April next year.
RCGP chairwoman-elect Dr Maureen Baker told the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week: ‘The service is stretched too thin. It’s becoming dangerous. General practice is in crisis and we urgently need additional resource into primary care.
‘We are not talking about reinventing the 1948 general practice of Dr Finlay. We are talking about 21st century general practice with enough doctors, enough primary care professionals, enough investment in services and diagnostics, in ancillary staff to be able to offer the kind of service that patients can reasonably expect, which is still incredibly clinically effective and incredibly cost effective.’