National Association for Patient Participation

Politicians told that GPs have key role in tackling impact of health inequalities

28 February 2018

People from poorer backgrounds face greater barriers in accessing healthcare. GPs have a crucial role to play in tackling the difference in health outcomes between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in our society.

Dr Euan Paterson, a RCGP Scotland representative and recently retired GP from Govan, gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee earlier this month on what can help tackle this divide.

Euan pointed out to politicians that there is good evidence that the greater the divide in society between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, the worse the levels of many health and social metrics become. He said it was quite possible that this may also be the case in matters relating to cancer. Acknowledging that inequality lies at the root of many of our society’s problems would be perhaps the first step in attempting to address this issue.

Discussing the impact of health inequalities, Euan described that the deprivation in some communities has led to a sense of fatalism and a loss of hope. Tragically, this has affected how people view their health.  When some patients in these areas develop a worrying symptom, they ask “what’s the point?” in going to see their family doctor.
This attitude, coupled with embarrassment about bodily problems, means that some patients are put off from seeking help or advice until months or even years after they first spot the symptoms of a potential illness.
General practice has a fundamental role to play in overcoming this barrier. GPs have a unique relationship with their patients, as family doctors build up a trusting relationship with their patients over many years.
Euan emphasised how important the GP-patient relationship is in helping to detect illness early. The trust built up between the two means that patients are more likely to seek out their doctor’s advice when something is wrong. Patients are also likely to not be as embarrassed if they are being examined by their GP as they would be with someone who they had never previously met. We must do all we can do protect this vitally important role of general practice and ensure that family doctors can continue to provide continuity of care for patients.
However, in order for this to happen, we need an adequately resourced and staffed general practice. For some time, RCGP Scotland has been campaigning for the Government to address the GP shortage and expand the workforce by 856 GPs by 2021.
RCGP Scotland has also been working to improve patients’ experience of general practice. When politicians asked about poor access to GPs and appointment length, Euan told MSPs that “the 10 minutes that we have nowadays is a woefully short time.”
Euan was right to raise this concern to our politicians as the future of our health service is in their hands. The way we deliver patient care needs to change in line with the changing needs of our population. To help tackle the impact of health inequalities and improve health outcomes for all, patients need to have more than 10 minutes to discuss healthcare concerns with their GP. In turn, GPs need more time to provide their patients with advice and offer suggestions on how they can improve their overall health and wellbeing.
However, we need your help to ensure that Government listens to our calls.
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