Guest Post By Adam Colclough
GP services across the country are buckling under the weight of work placed on doctors, causing serious concern for patient safety warns the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).
The number of consultations has risen to 360 million a year since 2010 and there are fewer GPs now than there were in 2009, the RCGPs says another 3300 are needed just to keep pace with current demand.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised that 5000 extra GPs are going to be trained along with 5000 support workers, but this is linked to doctors accepting seven-day working. There will also be cash incentives for doctors who choose to work in deprived areas.
The RCGPs has also warned that the exhaustion and stress experienced by doctors could lead to mistakes and may put lives at risk.
For most people their GP is their first point of contact with the NHS, in this age of austerity they have been obliged to take on ever more responsibilities as other services shrink or disappear entirely.
As a result GP surgeries are creaking under the strain and if the concerns expressed by the RCGPs are correct may soon become seriously compromised.
This will have particularly serious consequences in areas facing serious problems with deprivation since a visit to the doctor can often identify the need for support from other services such as food banks and housing support and provide a means of signposting for people in need of help.
The pressures on the service mean these problems may be missed by doctors with too many patients and too little time in which to see them with serious, maybe deadly consequences.
Jeremy Hunt’s promise of an extra 5000 GPs and a matching number of support staff represents fine words, but little promise of action offered as a bribe for the existing stretched service embracing seven-day working with five-day resources.
The rising cost of higher education and the length of medical training means fewer and fewer students will come forward to train as doctors. In the short-term the gap may be plugged by bringing in medical staff from overseas, but this is not an economically or ethically sustainable option.
The government is trying its hardest to sell the public the concept that seven-day working will solve all the problems of the NHS. It may solve some, those related to improving access for example, but if the service isn’t funded properly and there are too few trained staff it will do more harm than good.