The new campaign aims to boost recruitment of GPs, reduce GPs’ workloads to improve their safety and wellbeing, and tackle the reasons that GPs leave the profession

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In a unexpected pairing, the British Medical Association (BMA) and former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jeremy Hunt have joined forces to urge the Government to make good on its manifesto commitment to expand GP numbers.

Together, they launched a new campaign, Rebuilding general practice, which seeks to resolve the GP workforce crisis by counteracting the effects of declining GP numbers at a time when appointment numbers are peaking post-pandemic. Mr Hunt, who is now Chair of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, said that he was surprised to find himself on the same side as the BMA, but was happy to back the campaign as he agreed with its ‘fundamental analysis’ that there was a workforce crisis.

The campaign states that demand for GP appointments is outstripping supply. Patients should be able to consult their GP when needed, and GPs want to deliver this, but there are simply not enough GPs. This long-standing workforce crisis, coupled with growing patient demand, is creating ‘an unsafe and unmanageable situation for primary care’, and in turn leading to patient frustration and staff burnout, further risking patient safety.

Poll: 77% of GPs fear GP shortages are putting patients at risk 

A recent poll of more than 1300 GPs cited by the campaign found that nearly 90% of GPs fear that patients aren’t always safe at their surgeries.

The poll also found that:

  • 70% of GPs feel that the risk to patient safety is increasing
  • staff shortages and too little time for appointments were the main risk factors
  • 86% of GPs stated that they didn’t have enough time with patients
  • 77% of GPs said that GP shortages were putting patient safety at risk.

Recent data show that, on average, GPs are conducting 37 appointments every day—almost 50% more than the recommended number of 25. In a survey conducted in July 2021, 51% of GPs reported that they were suffering from burnout, depression, or other mental strain. Furthermore, over the past year, the equivalent of 279 full-time GPs have left the workforce altogether.

Mr Hunt said: ‘I think the Government has got its head in the sand when it comes to workforce pressures in the NHS.

‘The workforce crisis is the biggest issue facing the NHS. We can forget fixing the backlog unless we urgently come up with a plan to train enough doctors for the future and, crucially, retain the ones we’ve got.’

Goals: recruitment, retention, and safety

The campaign’s three key demands are:

  • recruitment—to deliver on the commitment to recruit an additional 6000 GPs in England by 2024
  • retention—to tackle the factors, such as burnout, that are driving GPs out of the profession
  • safety—to produce a plan to reduce GPs’ workloads and, in turn, improve patient safety.

‘Even before the pandemic, general practice was on the edge. Now, we are facing the biggest public health crisis in a century, said Kieran Sharrock, Lincoln GP and Deputy Chair of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, at the launch of the campaign.

‘COVID has been relentless. Every day, colleagues around the country tell me about the challenges they face. Each has a unique story, but they are all united in one message: we are stretched to breaking point.

‘To say healthcare staff are overworked is a titanic understatement’, he said. ‘The scale of the workforce exodus from general practice in the last few years scares me. If the Government doesn’t act soon to stop the bleed, every family who relies on the NHS will find their basic healthcare under threat.’

Mr Hunt said that it was important to be honest about GPs’ workloads and workforce issues. He also highlighted the importance of continuity of care. Patients seeing a different doctor each time ‘cannot be good for safety of care’, he said.

In one Norwegian study last year, the chance of patients going to hospital was 30% lower, and the chance of them dying was 25% lower, if they had the same GP over a long period of time.

‘That is because it is fundamentally safer to make a diagnosis if you know a patient’s context—you know their family, know their social situation’, he said. ‘You’re more likely to see those red flags when you should.’

The campaign is being jointly funded by the BMA and the General Practitioners Defence Fund on behalf of GPs in England, Scotland, and Wales.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

Credit:

Lead image: Sergey Yarochkin/stock.adobe.com

Image 1: Sergey Yarochkin/stock.adobe.com