Many of the issues at the centre of this campaign will be very familiar to both GPs and patients. We know that GPs want to deliver personalised, effective care to their patients. It is what we all became GPs to do and through hard work, often unrecognised, we have made the service of family doctors provide one that is admired around the world.
However, in recent years, GP practices have increasingly found obstacles in their path that have made it increasingly difficult to give patients the level of care they need and deserve. GP practices are seeing more and more older patients come through their door with complicated conditions that need intensive care. This is not going to abate any time soon. By 2031, another five million people will be aged over 65. Already an estimated 18 million people have one or more chronic condition that requires management in the community, mainly by GPs. And politicians seem set on a path to push more work from hospitals and into GP services.
Many GPs are struggling to cope with the increasing demand and spiralling workloads
We are as a workforce working harder than ever before to meet this workload challenge, and this year NHS England estimates that we will deliver 340 million consultations in the UK, up 40 million since 2008. But we are being hamstrung by a lack of additional funding, rising practice expenses and the declining state of many premises that are becoming increasingly inadequate for the needs of the modern health service.
I was saddened but not surprised when I saw the results of a BMA survey which showed six out of ten GPs were, in this difficult environment, considering early retirement. Many are struggling to cope with the increasing demand and spiralling workloads. I am also not surprised that these problems are being noticed by patients. Many are on our side. They see the workload pressures, understand that the number of appointments we have to offer are being affected and can see that our premises are not what they should be.
General practice is becoming unsustainable and it needs urgent help if it is to survive
We are showing GPs care about these issues and are calling for ministers to finally recognise that we can’t go on this way. Something needs to change. General practice is becoming unsustainable and it needs urgent help if it is to survive. We need an expansion in the number of GPs and an increase in practice staff for us to be able to deliver increasingly complex care, especially to older and vulnerable patients. We need a sustained programme of investment in GP premises to make them suitable for modern general practice and fit for the challenges that lie ahead. And we need this now: no more dithering and no more pretending that we can deliver more with less. Without a healthy general practice at its heart the NHS will fail.
Our campaign will see posters and other materials sent to GP practices so patients can understand the pressures that we’re under and sign up to pledge support our campaign. There will also be a concerted drive to influence politicians and policy makers across the UK. GPC will be working with stakeholders to provide the solutions we need to secure the future of general practice.
There is no doubt that general practice is at a crossroads. We can either ignore the challenges and see general practice become completely overwhelmed, or we raise the problems with patients and push to ensure policymakers provide the funding and policies needed to deliver the quality care our patients deserve.
* Dr McCarron-Nash is a GPC negotiator and a GP in Truro, Cornwall.