Patient care must be safe - but pressures on GPs are making this increasingly difficult to guarantee, says College

The College appears in the national media today, including the Telegraph, defending hard pressed GPs against claims that they are being 'ordered' to provide face-to-face appointments.

You can read our statement in full here. We will continue to challenge unfair criticism of GPs in the media and elsewhere, while continuing our calls on the four governments of the UK to invest in general practice and protect patient care by looking after the hardworking GPs who provide that care.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Long waiting times for GP appointments are as much of a concern for GPs as they are for patients. 

"Patients should have access to high quality GP care when they need it - but that care must also be safe, and the chronic shortage of GPs is making this increasingly difficult to guarantee.

"The move to largely remote consultations during the pandemic was necessary to stop the spread of the virus and keep patients and GP teams safe. It also meant that GPs have been able to carry on working when many other NHS services had to close down. 

"Face to face consultations have been offered throughout, where clinically appropriate and safe, and will always be an essential element of general practice, but remote consulting should also be an option as things get back to normal because there are advantages to both. Despite the easing of restrictions, this pandemic is far from over and we cannot afford to be complacent.

"Successive governments have failed to invest in our service for more than a decade and GP numbers have declined while our workload has escalated in volume and complexity. The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs fell by 4.5% between September 2015 and March 2021, meaning that the ratio of patients to FTE GPs has increased by almost 10%. 

"These pressures are now unsustainable.  Six in ten GPs say their mental health has deteriorated in the last year - and 63% say they expect things to get worse over the next five years. A recent College survey found that 34% of GPs expect to leave within five years - a quarter due to stress and burnout - meaning 15,000 GPs could be lost from frontline patient care.

"Whilst this data paints a bleak picture of the current state of general practice,  it also shows why the current Government must urgently deliver on its pledge of 6,000 additional GPs and 26,000 extra practice staff over the next three years.

"Patients deserve a family doctor but if general practice is allowed to collapse, the rest of the NHS won't be far behind it and the consequences will be very serious indeed."

Further information

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RCGP Press office – 020 3188 7633/7494/7574
Out of hours: 020 3188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 53,000 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.