Mike Holmes: More funding needed for GP practices

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TODAY alone, more than one million patients will visit their GP surgery.

GP teams are now managing illnesses and treating serious conditions in their surgeries that even a decade ago would have been automatically referred to hospitals.

Yet, at the same time as our workload is increasing dramatically, the number of GPs is falling.

The pressure is driving talented and experienced GPs away from the NHS faster than we can recruit new ones, leaving our existing GPs to battle rising workloads and working harder and harder to meet the healthcare needs of the public.

The picture is reflected across Yorkshire. In June, figures revealed that the Humber, Coast and Vale region had a 23 per cent shortfall in full-time equivalent GPs, while West Yorkshire saw a 20 per cent drop.

It was the same story in the North of Yorkshire, which reported a 19 per cent shortfall, and in South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw with 16 per cent.

The knock-on effect when practices are unable to recruit can have devastating consequences, not only for the GPs and their teams in the surgery, but also for our patients, neighbouring practices, and ultimately the wider NHS.

We are seeing some practices really struggling to deliver their service and occasionally the only viable solution
 is to permanently shut their doors; a massive, and difficult, decision for any surgery and one that is never taken lightly.

I’m an NHS GP and a partner in a practice providing services in York and Hull.

I am constantly reminded about the severity of the situation, as well as the effect it is having on our teams and most critically, our patients.

My practice, Haxby Group, comprises nine surgeries and provides care to
more than 50,000 patients across two cities.

Through merging and collaborating with others, we’ve managed to continue to provide our services but we recognise the significant risk to practices the current environment brings.

I have witnessed at close quarters how good practices can get into serious difficulties and the impact that this can have in the community.

Our journey has, up to now, been positive and I see other practices in a similar position – but it doesn’t work for everyone. It is clear practices need support to deliver the care in the most suitable way for the population they serve.

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) is doing what we can to improve recruitment to general practice, and
we have a record number of junior doctors choosing the profession than ever before.

But it takes about 10 years to train a GP, and with the current pressures on general practice getting ever more intense we simply can’t wait that long for a solution.

General practice is the lifeblood of the NHS. We need more funding – and more people – in general practice so that we can continue to give all our patients the care they need and deserve in our local communities, relieving the pressures on hospitals and other parts of the health service.

Investing in general practice is investment in the entire NHS and all its patients.

Dr Mike Holmes is vice chair of the Royal College of GPs. He is also a GP in York.