Doctors are warning that general practice clinics risk cracking under the pressure of “unsustainable” workloads unless the government ramps up the recruitment of medical staff and takes steps to reduce burnout.
The Royal College of GPs is calling on the government to introduce an emergency rescue package to shore up general practice clinics after the pandemic, including recruiting 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 additional support staff, such as nurses and receptionists, by 2024 as well as reducing paperwork and investing in £1bn worth of improvements to infrastructure and technology. Without these changes, patients will not receive the care they need, the college said.
Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: “We simply do not have enough GPs to meet the needs of a growing and ageing population, with increasingly complex conditions, on top of managing the fallout and work backlog from the pandemic. If general practice collapses, the rest of the NHS will follow not far behind it.”
Marshall added that the job of GPs was already “largely undoable” before Covid-19, since they do not have time to care for or build trusting relationships with their patients. General practice is now at “breaking point”, echoing the situation in hospitals, despite most public attention focusing on these, he said.
He added: “These pressures are now unsustainable and must be urgently addressed as we move beyond the emergency pandemic period and GPs deal with the aftermath of Covid in their local communities – including long Covid and the additional mental and physical health problems it is causing.”
The RCGP is warning that the government is continuing to “drastically miss” its target to train and recruit 6,000 more full-time GPs by 2024. In reality, the profession needs 5,000 new GPs to be trained every year, according to its recovery plan.
Meanwhile, the number of fully qualified GPs in England has fallen by 4.5% between September 2015 and March 2021, according to RCGP analysis of NHS data.
Surveys by the RCGP suggested that many GPs are considering leaving the profession due to burnout. Six in 10 said their mental health had deteriorated in the last year – and two-thirds (63%) said they expected things to get worse over the next five years. A third (34%) are planning to leave during this period – a quarter of whom cited stress as the reason – which could equate to 14,000 GPs leaving the profession.
The five-point action plan also urged the government to give GPs a stronger voice in designing care for their local communities and to be more deeply integrated with the wider health system to reduce waste.
Recent data from the RCGP and Oxford University shed light on the scale of demand for GP services, with the number of consultations by GPs rising since last summer to reach record levels. The RCGP is predicting this will continue to increase to meet the demands of the UK’s growing and ageing population.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government is incredibly grateful for the tireless efforts of GPs, who have continued to provide care for all of us when we have health concerns throughout this global pandemic.
“We have invested £270m to expand GP capacity so they can cope with the increased demands and recovery pressures as a result of Covid-19, and this comes on top of the £1.5bn for extra staff committed for general practices until 2023/24.
“The NHS continues to attract talented GP trainees – with the highest ever number of doctors accepting a place to train as a GP in 2021/22 – and we are committed to increasing the number of training places available to 4,000 a year to grow the primary care workforce.”