More than 4 in 5 members of the public believe that the next government must take action to solve the problems facing general practice
Publication date: 30 January 2024
General practice is set to be a key general election battleground with more than 4 in 5 respondents to a public poll commissioned by the Royal College of GPs saying that they want the political parties to set out detailed plans to solve the problems facing general practice.
The survey also found that over 3 in 5 (61%) respondents identified NHS care as one of the most important factors in how they will cast their vote, ranking it above the economy, housing and the climate crisis. When asked which part of NHS care they would like to see prioritised, over half (55%) said general practice, with slightly more (59%) saying urgent and emergency care, which includes GP out of hours services; 40% said surgery, 37% said mental health care and 33% said dentistry.
Over three quarters of the public (78%) supported more funding for general practice if it would reduce appointment waiting times, with 84% believing the next government should increase the number of GPs to make it easier to book an appointment. Overall, 83% of respondents said they wanted to see action from the next government on access, and two thirds (66%) said that it was important to them to be able to book a GP appointment with a health professional they have met before.
Over the last five years, demand for general practice care and services has escalated, yet the number of fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs has fallen since 2019, when the current Government promised to increase the workforce by 6,000.
Latest NHS England figures show that last November was the busiest on record for GPs and their teams, who delivered more than 31 million appointments – a 30% increase on 2019. Concurrently, latest workforce figures reveal that the profession has lost 642 fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs. The average number of patients per GP in England is now an eye watering 2,290.
Today's findings demonstrate that the general public - our patients - recognise the pressures facing general practice, and the impact these are having on access to GP services, and want the next government to address them
Resolving the workload and workforce crises facing general practice will require serious commitment from the next government to properly address years of underinvestment in the service and poor workforce planning, as well as growing public need due to the increasing numbers of people living with one or more long term conditions.
Crucial will be adequate funding for the recruitment and retention of thousands more GPs, without which, safe and timely access the general practice services simply cannot be guaranteed.
The College's manifesto, published ahead of the forthcoming General Election, outlines seven solutions - including funding plans for GP recruitment and retention, as well as initiatives to free up GP time and cut bureaucracy - that will help improve patient access to safe, timely and appropriate care.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne said: "This survey shows that general practice can't be ignored by political parties. The public are increasingly struggling to access our care and services, and they recognise that this is out of the control of GPs and our teams, who are trying to do our best for patients in the most difficult of circumstances.
"General practice has been left to wither on the vine by policymakers. GPs and our teams have been plagued by workforce and workload crises, and it is our patients who are feeling the impact of this most. These findings demonstrate that access to GP services is a priority for the public, so it's vital that all political parties outline how they plan to tackle the problems the profession faces as we approach the General Election.
"We've always said that GPs and patients are on the same side and want the same thing, and these poll results confirm this. We want to see political parties to take heed of the solutions set out in our manifesto and put forward deliverable plans to increase GP numbers, give GPs more time with patients, and enhance access to our services.
"For most people, their local GP will be their main experience with the NHS. It is a service valued amongst patients. GPs and our teams make the vast majority of NHS patient contacts and investing in general practice is incredibly cost-effective.
“Political parties that don't recognise the importance the British public places on general practice and NHS care - and take steps to protect our service and address the workforce and workload pressures we are working under, so that we can continue to offer patients safe, timely and appropriate access to our care - will likely find this reflected in the outcome of the forthcoming General Election."
RCGP press office: 0203 188 7659
Notes to editors
The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 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.