Patients could be made to wait weeks to see their family doctor as overwhelmed medics struggle to manage waiting times during the busy winter period, Britain’s leading GP has said.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said extended waiting times can pose a “serious risk” to patients and that she was “profoundly concerned” about how GPs will cope over the winter.
Some patients are already waiting two or three weeks to see GPs for non-urgent matters and if they have to wait a week or two more then their cases are at risk of becoming urgent, she warned.
If management of patients with chronic diseases is delayed so GPs can “firefight” the urgent patients then the consequences could be “very serious indeed”, Dr Stokes-Lampard added.
The RCGP leader, who works as a GP in Lichfield, Staffordshire, said: “If you’ve suddenly developed a lump, or you’ve got a funny pain somewhere, you know it’s not desperately urgent for you to see your GP today but you’d like to see a GP within a few days.
“With lumps or bleeding problems or things that could be signs of serious disease, my profound concern is that people will delay seeking help for things that could potentially be life-threatening or life-changing if they are not tackled swiftly.”
She warned that GP services are stretched “desperately thin” and lack the numbers or the scale for any resilience, adding: “What you’re left with is goodwill and professionalism being all that’s left holding it together.”
Labour’s shadow health minister, Julie Cooper, said there had been little acknowledgement from government of the pressures on GP surgeries.
The Burnley and Padiham MP said: “The truth is that they are overwhelmed by ever-increasing demand. Add to this a chronic shortage of GPs and a crisis in recruitment and the result is a service that is at breaking point.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said England’s GP services will receive an extra £2.4bn in real terms investment by 2020.