Richard Vautrey: Time has come to face up to the crisis in GP care

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GP surgeries across Yorkshire are at breaking point: we are under unsustainable pressure from a combination of rising patient demand and falling resources, and are left facing a workforce crisis, with many doctors unable to offer the services the public want.

GPs across the region are increasingly frustrated by the rising number of constraints which are impacting on services and undermining our ability to do our best for those who need us.

We are unable to cope with the current pressure on the health service, and understand entirely why our patients are becoming frustrated at the lack of appointments and delays getting the treatment they need.

The standard 10 minute appointment for many of the patients at my surgery in Leeds is simply not enough, but we’re in a catch 22; longer appointments for the many patients that each GP sees a day may mean more comprehensive care for those individuals, but will have a severe effect on delays for other patients needing an appointment.

Demand is continuing to rise but the Government has failed completely to provide the support that local GP practices need to offer their patients the time and care they require.

A recent patient survey showed that in both Sheffield and Doncaster around one in five people found it difficult to get through to their surgery on the phone, and after making an appointment, 20 per cent people in Doncaster, and over a quarter of people in Sheffield, had to wait more than 15 minutes at the surgery as GPs giving time
to their patients ran late as a result.

We desperately need more GPs, more practice staff and more nurses to meet demand and provide the care our patients deserve.

The issues facing general practice in Yorkshire have had a detrimental and worrying effect on GP recruitment in the local area, and are resulting in a workforce crisis. Young doctors are no longer choosing general practice as a career and training places are going unfilled.

The latest figures show that Yorkshire and Humber is one of the worst areas for unfilled GP trainee vacancies, with 70 out
of 299 available posts left

These figures are deeply concerning and represent a serious threat to the delivery of effective GP services to patients. There will be too few GPs to meet the needs of our patients, with not enough new doctors entering the workforce as growing numbers of older GPs leave their practices.

A recent BMA survey showed that six out of 10 GPs were considering early retirement, while a quarter were considering quitting the medical profession all together, owing to the pressures they are under.

If this situation becomes the norm it will result in an accelerating decline in the overall number of GPs,

The effects of the recruitment crisis are particularly evident at one practice in Rotherham. A GP there told me that during the few months since finishing his training, and becoming a partner at the surgery, he has seen the increasing pressure on general practice ripple through his surgery in many ways.

Two of his senior colleagues are now planning to leave for Canada owing to the mounting workload and other colleagues have already escaped the pressures of the NHS to work abroad.

Worryingly, the practice no longer has the resources left to recruit new GPs or employ freelance GPs to help with the workload, and there has been very little interest in the current vacancies.

While demand is increasing, funding for general practice has been flat-lining for years and many practices do not have enough staff, resources or adequate buildings which are big enough to give patients the care that they need.

It is exactly because of these issues facing general practice that the British Medical Association (BMA) has launched the “Your GP Cares” campaign, and will be discussing the crisis facing general practice at its annual meeting in Harrogate next week.

We are reaching an incredibly important moment for general practice. We can either face up to the realities facing GPs and make plans now to meet the growing challenges – or we can bury our heads in the sand and watch this key part of the NHS slide into permanent decline.