family doctors yesterday claimed they are facing a £400m blackhole in funding which is having a “disastrous” impact on patient care – just days after David Cameron said they must open surgeries for longer.
The data shows the “shocking extent of successive under-investment in general practice” at a time when the amount of money going to hospitals has continued to rise, the Royal College of GPs said.
It called on the Government to plug the gap, arguing the amount spent on general practice in England has dropped seven per cent in real terms due to a combination of funding cuts and population growth.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said he wanted surgeries to be open from 8am-8pm, seven days a week to counter complaints that working people find it hard to get seen by a family doctor. He pledged £50m to encourage GPs to offer weekend and evening appointments in nine pilot areas.
The figures, published at the Royal College of General Practitioners’ (RCGP) annual conference in Harrogate, suggest that in 2012-13 real-term investment in general practice fell to £8.5m from £8.9m in 2009-10.
More than 90 per cent of patient contacts in the NHS are carried out in general practice, yet the college said it received only nine per cent of the entire NHS budget.
RCGP chairman Clare Gerada said: “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.
“GPs are keen to do more for their patients but we are heaving under the pressure of ever-increasing workloads and diminishing resources, including a chronic shortfall of GPs.
“Some of us are routinely working 11-hour days with up to 60 patient contacts in a single day and this is not safe or sustainable, for patients or GPs.
“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.”
She said that once general practice “starts to crumble, the entire NHS will follow with disastrous consequences for our patients”.
In a question and answer session at the conference with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, one delegate said opening from 8am until 8pm would mean GPs working 84-hour weeks, while opening longer would also run counter to a policy of having a single GP in charge of their care.
To applause from delegates, the GP said: “It seems to me you can have continuity or you can have access, which will you prioritise?”
Mr Hunt said the idea behind the pilot schemes was to gain an understanding of how much it would cost to extend opening to give people better access.
GP Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association general practitioners’ committee, said: “The economic and bureaucratic straitjacket that many GPs find themselves in has led to a decline in morale and is unsustainable, with GPs unable to provide patients with the time, access and level of care that they deserve.
“The Government needs to rapidly invest in more GPs, staff and resources so practices have the capacity to meet rising demand.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “GPs do a vital job. Investment in general practice increased 1.3 per cent last year but we know GPs are under pressure to do more with tight budgets.”
New funding for GPs worth £50m would aim to help them pioneer new ways of working and it was planned to get half of medical students to become GPs.