And, it is not scaremongering or being alarmist. Eight in 10 GPs fear missing serious illness in patients due to workload. The overwhelming majority of GPs find working in general practice stressful. The root cause of this crisis is that GP practices are facing an unprecedented combination of rising patient demand, especially from an ageing population, declining resources and the stepmotherly treatment of the GPs.
The government is also asking GP practices to provide 24/7 services, including many involving the transfer of hospital care into the community, without the resources required to successfully deliver them. This 24-hour, consumerist environment has raised demands for a ‘dial-a-pizza’ approach to healthcare - instant gratification with least discomfort – with the profit-based business model that motivates supermarkets.
Around 90% of contacts with patients in the NHS take place within general practice but the percentage share it has received from the four governments of the UK has been in decline for the best part of the last decade.
GPs are working harder than ever before
The funding for general practice in England has slumped to just 8.5% of the total NHS budget. A recent study by the RCGP predicts that the funding for general practice is due to fall by 17% in real terms by 2017/18, while patient consultations are set to rise by 69m. General practice is imploding faster than people realise and patients are already bearing the brunt of the problem.
GPs are doing their best to cope with this. They are working harder than ever before, getting through 340m consultations each year, up 40m since 2010. But there is a limit to what GPs can do when patient demand is going up and resources are going down. With an ageing population that needs more complicated care and longer appointments this is only going to get worse.
Poll after poll confirms that GP morale is either low or very low and two-thirds are considering early retirement. The lack of funding in general practice threatens to take away the personal service and continuity of care, with smaller surgeries being swallowed up into larger consortiums, losing the personal touch our patients love the most. This is a dire situation because we could have a scenario where we don't have enough GPs to replace the ones leaving the NHS, which would have a terrible impact on patient care.
Lack of investment in general practice will have major repercussions for the rest of the NHS
There is now a real crisis of confidence in the future of general practice. We need the government to listen to what GPs are telling them and find a workable solution to these problems. General practice is the bedrock of the NHS and we cannot sit back and allow it to collapse. A lack of investment in general practice will have major repercussions for the rest of the NHS.
I want politicians to realise, that to meet these demanding challenges they must begin to value the hard work and dedication of GPs, and other healthcare professionals, and support them by increasing the resources and funding properly and without delay.