Our younger patients must not write off NHS services, says College Chair

Responding to data from the Independent Healthcare Providers Network on the rising number of young people accessing private healthcare, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We live in a fast-moving world where we can get most things ‘on demand’ without having to wait, so while we are sad to hear about rising numbers of young people accessing private healthcare, we are not entirely surprised.

“Long waits for GP appointments have become a ‘national conversation’ and we share our patients’ frustrations when they are not able to access our services as quickly as they might want to. However, no patient should have to pay for healthcare services that they are entitled to free of charge on the NHS, and patients of all ages should be able to see a GP when they need one. Continuity of care is known to be good for patient outcomes, and seeing a GP who knows you and has access to your full medical record is known to be beneficial.

“Unfortunately, general practice is buckling under significant pressure, and more than a decade of under-investment and poor workforce planning has led to a situation where we no longer have the supply to meet ever-rising demand. Due to workload pressures, GPs are leaving the profession faster than they are entering it.

“Healthy young people are less likely to have a chronic or serious condition so speedy and convenient access to healthcare is likely to be their major consideration, and this survey shows more people are prepared to pay for that. In many cases, they may only require a prescription or a one-off consultation, making a private GP appointment a helpful service – but we must guard against creating a ‘two tier’ system that favours those who can afford to pay and disadvantages those who can’t.

“The real solution lies in greater investment in general practice. 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. Each GP in England is now responsible, on average, for over 2,300 patients – an increase of over 150 patients from the end of 2019 – and this is not sustainable.

“That’s why we are calling for urgent support for general practice, not just to recruit GPs but to encourage existing GPs to stay in the profession, alongside steps to cut unnecessary bureaucracy so that GPs can spend more time providing their patients with the care they need.

“Our younger patients must not write off NHS services. They need to have trust and confidence in their NHS and giving them access to appropriately funded and well-resourced general practice is the best way of achieving this.”

Further information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633

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.