To prevent a health crisis this winter we must ensure primary care is not overlooked, says College Chair

Responding to the government’s latest proposals for the winter relief plan, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the following.

“The winter pressures that GPs and their teams face are too often overshadowed by the focus and funding hospitals receive, so it was encouraging that I was at the table with secondary care colleagues today. 

"If we’re to prevent a health crisis this winter, we must make sure primary care is not overlooked. It has been disappointing to see that there is no additional funding for primary care in the government’s Winter Plan.

“As the front door to the NHS, general practice manages a huge volume of patient contacts, more so than any other part of our health service. GPs are delivering tens of millions of appointments per month, even more than before the pandemic, but now with 952 fewer fully qualified, full-time GPs than 2019. If our under-staffed GP teams are unable to cope with an influx of patients this winter, we’ll likely see unsustainable spill over into other, equally under pressure, branches of the health service - further jeopardising the effectiveness of the NHS.

“The unfortunate reality is that the pressures we’re experiencing are no longer seasonal. Instead, we’re seeing a continuous cycle of unsustainable workload year-round for our GPs, which is making preparation for the seasonal peaks in illnesses even harder to prepare for. Each GP in England is now responsible, on average, for over 2,300 patients – an increase of over 160 patients from the end of 2019. Adding insult to injury is the large volume of bureaucratic duties that GPs are required to handle, retracting from their primary focus of patient care and impacting patient safety. The College’s latest research uncovered that, on average, GPs spend a third (33%) of their time on unnecessary workload and bureaucracy.  

“General practice is in a precarious position. We’re the first port of call for patients with winter illnesses such as flu and strep throat, but we simply don’t have enough GPs to meet demand, especially if there is an unexpected spike in cases this winter. While the NHS long-term workforce plan should, over the course of the next 10 years, result in larger numbers of GPs, we need immediate action on recruitment that addresses our current shortfall. We also need retention initiatives which ensure that more qualified GPs don’t leave the profession. Winter will be with us all too soon and, once again, general practice is being pushed closer to the precipice through a lack of preparation.”

Further information

RCGP press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

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.