Three quarters of GP partners say their practice has struggled to cope this winter

More than three in four GP partners say their practice has struggled to cope this winter as the worst flu outbreak in seven years and the freeze on elective care in England added to existing pressure.

GPs under pressure (Photo: iStock)
GPs under pressure (Photo: iStock)

A total of 77% of GP partners said their practice had struggled to cope, with many warning that staff morale had been left in tatters and that doctors were in constant fear that pressure would force them into mistakes that could harm patients.

Two thirds of 241 GP partners who responded to a GPonline poll this month said their practice had offered additional telephone and email consultations to try to ease pressure, and half said they had cancelled meetings or teaching duties to focus on keeping their practice afloat.

A quarter of partners said their practice had introduced extra emergency-only surgeries, and one in five had suspended routine management of long-term conditions.

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One in four GPs have seen patients harmed by NHS winter pressure

Others said they had taken steps such as adding extra appointments, reducing partners' take-home pay to fund additional locum staff, or working longer days.

Across all 506 GPs who responded to the poll - including salaried and locum doctors - more than seven in 10 said the practice or practices they work in had struggled to cope. One in four said they had seen patients harmed by pressure on the NHS this winter.

The findings confirm the intense pressure that general practice has experienced this winter as a service already under facing heavy workload has absorbed additional seasonal work including a sharp rise in flu cases and the knock-on effect of the cancellation of elective care across England in January.

Winter pressure

Evidence that GPs are increasingly unable to cope with the pressure they face is unavoidable. Earlier this month GPonline revealed exclusively that 1,109 GPs had sought help from the GP Health Service - set up to support doctors facing burnout, stress or addiction issues - in its first full year in operation.

Meanwhile, official data show that GPs are abandoning partnership roles at an alarming rate, with numbers of GP partners in England falling by more than 700 in 2017.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told this website in January - before the worst of the flu outbreak took hold - that this was the worst winter he had experienced in his 30 years in general practice.

Responding to the latest poll, Dr Vautrey said the findings were 'evidence of a system under massive pressure'.

An NHS England spokesman said: 'Practices are being supported with an additional investment of £20m to help primary care manage winter pressures.'

A DHSC spokesman said: 'We know GPs are busy – that’s why we are committed to an extra 5,000 doctors in general practice by 2020 — supported by investment of an extra £2.4bn a year to improve care and deliver better patient access.'

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