THE GENERAL practice system is “imploding”, waiting lists are set to soar and thousands of patients could be left without access to a family doctor, a leading GP has warned.
Changes to the ways practices are funded, leaving GPs stuck between a mismatch of rising demand and “disinvestment” are making it impossible for GPs to provide the good care they want to, the chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) general practitioners committee said.
Speaking at the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Harrogate yesterday, Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned that two-week waits to see a GP could soon become commonplace.
There is now a “conveyor belt of care” as GPs try to see as many patients as possible, he said.
Dr Nagpaul said that in the last five years the number of patients seen by family doctors has increased by 40 million each year.
But despite the increase in workload, there has been a reduction in the number of family doctors and their share of the NHS budget is “dwindling”, he said.
“Funding cuts now threaten the viability of many GP surgeries nationally,” he said.
“The simple fact is that demand has far outstripped our impoverished capacity, denying patients the care and access they deserve.
“We’re forced into providing a conveyor belt of care at breakneck speed. This is unmanageable, exhausting and unsustainable and puts safety and quality at risk. I urge politicians to open their eyes and wake up to the fact that general practice is not just in a crisis, it’s imploding.”
Dr Nagpaul said a survey by the Royal College of GPs showed that waits will increase to two weeks in a large number of practices in the coming year.
He added: “What we are witnessing is a total mismatch between the rapidly rising demands on GP appointments and a shrinking capacity to provide that care.
“Waiting times are inevitably getting longer because the increased demand has not been matched with increased capacity.
“GPs will rightly prioritise urgent problems, what is being squeezed are patients with routine problems.
“This is paining GPs, we want to provide prompt and good care but it’s just proving impossible.”
Dr Nagpaul also warned that changes to way GPs are funded could leave thousands of patients without a GP.
In April, the Government began phasing out the Minimum Practice Income Guarantee, which provided a minimum level of funding, which smaller surgeries relied on to keep going. The Royal College of GPs said that 98 practices are at threat of imminent closure due to the changes. Dr Nagpaul said many more surgeries could face the same fate - especially in rural areas.
He added: “There is a real worry that in the coming two years we are going to see significant numbers of practices that are going to be in unviable financially.”