General practice running on 'professionalism and goodwill' to cope with winter pressures, says RCGP

Publication date: 29 December 2016

GPs keep the NHS afloat with combination of 'professionalism, resilience and goodwill'

GPs are keeping the NHS afloat with a combination of 'professionalism, resilience and goodwill' in order to care for rising numbers of patients with illnesses brought on by the onset of winter,  says Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Highlighting that it is not solely hospitals bearing the impact of winter pressures in the NHS, she says hard pressed GPs are 'firefighting' and peaks in hospital emergency departments are 'magnified' in general practice due to the sheer volume of patients seen by GPs and their teams.

In an interview with Press Association published today, Professor Stokes-Lampard, a practising GP in the Midlands, claims the family doctor service is 'skating on thin ice'.

With patients in some areas of the country already having to wait up to three weeks to get a GP appointment for 'non-urgent but worrying' symptoms,  she says she is very concerned about the unintended consequences of patients being unable to see a doctor promptly this winter because capacity in general practice is so thinly stretched.

Over 1.3m patients visit a GP surgery every day and the number of consultations in general practice has rocketed to 60m more per year compared to even five years ago.  

Professor Stokes-Lampard is calling for NHS England to honour the pledges made in its GP Forward View - including a bigger share of the NHS budget and more GPs - as a matter of urgency. She is also urging all the governments of the UK to support and strengthen general practice with more investment and resources. 

She said: "I am profoundly concerned about how general practice will cope over the winter. 

"It's not just A&E that sees peaks in workload. Every peak that you see in A&E is magnified in primary care just through the scale.

"As a service that is already skating on thin ice - a service that is stretched incredibly thinly - something has to give. 

"If you're dealing with people who are acutely sick on the day because people need help, then chronic disease management will disappear.

"Chronic disease management is the most phenomenal success story of the NHS - every day tens of thousands of people do not die who would have died 20 to 30 years ago because we are quietly saving them from having heart attacks, we are saving them from having strokes, we are saving them from complications of diabetes.

"My worry, the big fear, is that if GPs and other healthcare professionals working in the community rein back on preventative care and chronic disease management because we are too busy firefighting the urgent issues, the knock-on consequences could take years to manifest but they will be very serious." 

She added: "GPs will always do their best for their patients but we have a service that is already desperately stretched and doesn't have the numbers or the scale for any resilience as we have already mopped up all our resilience. 

"What you're left with is goodwill and professionalism holding everything together."

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633/7410
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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