According to the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) a funding crisis and increased demand for care means general practice, as well as patients know it is “under severe threat of extinction”.
The royal college’s president, Dr Maureen Baker, said failing to properly fund GP surgeries could have an impact on the sustainability of the NHS and some practices were already closing due to lack of staff.
Dr Baker said, “we are fiddling while Rome burns and the four Governments of the UK must wake up to the critical state that general practice is now in. General practice as we know it is now under severe threat of extinction. It is imploding faster than people realise and patients are already bearing the brunt of the problem. For generations, GPs have been the bedrock of the NHS and provided excellent care for patients but we can no longer guarantee a future for general practice as our patients know it, rely on it – and love it. GPs are doing all they can but we are being seriously crippled by a toxic mix of increasing workloads and ever-dwindling budgets, which is leaving patients waiting too long for an appointment and not receiving the time or attention they need and that GPs want to give them.”
The think tank, the King’s Fund, agreed that GP services were under increasing pressure, but said talk of “extinction” was“a huge exaggeration”.
The royal college says that funding for general practice in England has fallen by £400m in real terms over the past three years even though demand for GP services was increasing from 300 million consultations in 2008 to 340 million in 2012. Dr Baker said if there is not sufficient funding in the 2014/15 budget rounds, the RCGP has “grave concerns for the sustainability of the NHS’ and warned that, “in some areas, we believe that some practices are already shutting down”.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said it was “simply unacceptable” that some patients had to wait up to a week for a GP appointment. He said this was putting pressure on hospital accident and emergency departments.
A Department of Health spokesperson said, “we recognise the vital job that GPs do. This is why we have cut GPs’ targets by more than a third to free up more time with patients, and are dramatically increasing trainees so that GP numbers continue to grow faster than the population.”