Now all the Christmas festivities are over there’s the ever familiar rush to book appointments with a GP or Nurse! However, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has warned that millions of patients in England are waiting at least one week or more for an appointment to see their GP and predict even longer waiting times. In the latest survey by the RCGP highlighting the growing crisis in general practice, it found more than 80% of respondents said that they now have insufficient resources to provide high quality patient care.
Worryingly, four in five GPs were concerned that it will become increasingly difficult to deliver continuity of care to vulnerable elderly people, which has been highlighted as a priority by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
What are the symptoms?
RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker warned: “If waiting times get longer, it will be more difficult for GPs to ensure that problems are caught early, and the pressure on A&E will intensify. This is bad news for patients and bad news for the whole of the NHS.”
Patients are growing increasingly frustrated and I feel this is reflected in the number of patient complaints about GPs and the lack of waiting times to access many Primary Care services.
As well as the reduction in patient services, over a third of respondents to the poll also said they had cut practice staff and over half had experienced difficulty recruiting and retaining GPs. This has a direct effect on staff morale and creates yet another side effect of the access crisis.
What’s the prognosis?
Although the majority of patients rate their overall experience of their GP practice as good, and the Government has announced a £50 million fund to support innovative GP practices to improve access for their patients, there is need for more GP trainees. Therefore the Government has committed to increasing the number of GP trainees to 50% of all medical students by 2020 and there is an expectation that GP numbers will continue to grow to meet patient demand.
I am sceptical this will be achieved in the timescale due to cuts in funding, increasing workloads and the challenges of recruitment and retention of GPs. Primary Care should be a priority to be fit for the future, particularly if it is to meet the challenges of an ageing patient population and have an impact on the reduction of A&E attendances.
My key advice would be to have an action plan and timescales to address the issues and have a suitable response for complainants to try and restore confidence as much as possible. CQC are keen to ensure employers are supporting their staff so communication and regular feedback, not just at annual appraisals, is important to providing a good service to patients.