The doctor’s surgery is just as much on the NHS frontline as the A&E department or the cancer unit and just like other vital elements of the health service, is being subjected to growing pressures.
The extent to which practices are struggling to cope with demand has been highlighted by the British Medical Association’s call to cap the number of patients a GP sees each day to prevent unsafe working levels.
Dr Laurence Buckman, the former chairman of the BMSA’s GP committee, has warned that the current requirement for 10-minute consultations is often not enough to meet the needs of patients with complex conditions, while squeezing in appointment after appointment means members of the public may be unintentionally harmed by tired doctors not making proper diagnoses.
Of course, having fewer opportunities to see a doctor will hardly be welcomed by the many thousands of patients who already face considerable waiting time for appointments.
But the unfortunate reality is that waiting longer for a more detailed appointment appears preferable to being rushed through to see a harassed GP at a higher risk of making mistakes or going off work themselves with a stress-related illness – thereby causing an even greater backlog in appointments.
There are no quick remedies to the situation but, in the longer term, better investment in primary care combined with a greater commitment from Government to train up more doctors – especially given the large numbers of existing GPs approaching retirement – would go some way to solving this national malady.