Doctors and patients call for urgent summit with Health Secretary

Publication date: 29 June 2013

The Royal College of General Practitioners RCGP and Patients Association join forces to call for an urgent summit with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Doctors and patients call for urgent summit with Health Secretary as half of GPs say they can no longer guarantee safe patient care 

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and Patients Association have joined forces to call for an urgent summit with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the 'crisis’ in general practice, with evidence emerging that half of the UK’s GPs now feel they cannot guarantee safe patient care.

The two charities warn that a crisis in general practice has arisen as a result of ballooning GP workloads and decreasing resources. They say that safe patient care is being put in jeopardy as a result.

The College and Patients Association are concerned that GPs are being forced to make unacceptable compromises between trying to fit in an ever increasing number of consultations each day and the provision of safe care for each patient. The two organisations believe the Health Secretary must urgently increase investment in general practice, with the money being taken from the ring-fenced NHS budget.

The joint letter to Mr Hunt follows the publication of an RCGP poll, conducted by Research Now, which revealed that on a full day in surgery 55% of GPs conduct an average of 40-60 patient consultations, and 46% of GPs work at least 11 hours.

According to the research, 84% of GPs say their workload has increased substantially and 49% of GPs say they can no longer guarantee safe patient care.

Nearly half of the GPs surveyed also said that their patients have to wait longer for a GP appointment than five years ago. This is backed up by findings from a Patients Association survey that 87% of patients are waiting longer than 24 hours to secure an appointment. Over half of patients said that booking a GP appointment was difficult or could have been easier, with a third of those of working ages having to take time off to attend an appointment with their GP.

Eighty five per cent of GPs surveyed in the RCGP poll said that general practice was now ‘in crisis’.

In the letter to Mr Hunt, the College and the Patients Association highlight the fact that general practice provides the most cost-effective care in the NHS, with GPs accounting for 90% of patient contacts but only receiving 9% of the NHS budget.

RCGP Chair Clare Gerada said:

“General practice is at the heart of the National Health Service and if it starts to buckle the whole of the health service starts to disintegrate.

“We are concerned that with all the attention currently focused on Emergency Departments, we are losing sight of the very real crisis in general practice.

“We also need to find new ways of providing more personalised care to patients out of hours, whilst ensuring that we do not put patient safety at risk by expecting exhausted GPs to work unacceptable hours.

“GPs want to do more for their patients but are constrained in their ability to do so by the unprecedented pressures they are now coming under. The needs of patients are rapidly changing – with GPs now providing care to an ageing population increasingly likely to be living with one or more long term conditions. Longer consultation times, giving GPs and patients more time to plan care together, are a key part of the solution. However, the reality – as the RCGP poll indicates – is that many GPs are now seeing 40-60 patients every day with some doctors routinely working 11-hour days.”

“Despite doing 90% of work in the NHS, general practice is still receiving only 9% of the budget and this situation cannot be allowed to continue. Unless general practice receives urgent investment – including more doctors – the impact on patients will be catastrophic in both primary and secondary care.”

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said:

“Patients and relatives are contacting our helpline in ever increasing numbers to complain about problems that they are experiencing in obtaining access to their GP, and the amount of time that they get to see their GP once they have booked an appointment. Both in our survey and over our Helpline patients are telling us they are having to wait longer to get an appointment, and once they get an appointment they are spending less time with their GP. The findings of the RCGP survey are deeply concerning to patients. If GPs don’t feel they can treat patients safely then the patients themselves will certainly not have faith in the system.

"We fully recognise the pressures being placed on GPs and their practices. That is why we have joined with the RCGP to call for this urgent summit, because Patients and GPs, as well as the Government and others, need to work together to find a solution to this ever increasing problem. This solution needs to be found urgently, because patients are being put at risk.”

The fieldwork for the Research Now survey was conducted between 5-11 June 2013 by Research Now on behalf of the RCGP. Researchers reported on a random sample of 258 GPs across the UK 210 from England; 25 from Scotland; 14 from Wales; and nine from Northern Ireland.

Further Information

RCGP Press office - 020 3188 7574/7575/7576
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659
press@rcgp.org.uk

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 44,000 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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