Long GP waiting times show government heading in the wrong direction

Untitled8Commenting on new figures showing that 31 per cent of people in Bristol had to wait a week or more to see or speak to their GP, or couldn’t get an appointment at all the last time they tried, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth said: “The problem of GP recruitment is a national one, caused by a government that has left general practice understaffed, underfunded and unable to cope with the rising demand.

“The role of the trusted local GP service is becoming increasingly important as demand upon the NHS increases, because more and more people are now receiving healthcare away from a hospital setting.

“This means GP practices need to be better supported, but I am concerned these new figures show things are going in completely the wrong direction. It is becoming harder, not easier, to see or speak to a GP.

“Sadly these figures do not surprise me, and they will come as no surprise to many in South Bristol, who are amongst those feeling the strain from the GP shortage. Bedminster residents, for example, have recently faced difficulties with Malago Surgery and Bedminster Family Practice diverting patients in the past year to other areas having closed their lists. And this follows similar experiences of Knowle’s St Martin’s Surgery in 2014, when patients received a letter out of the blue warning them that local GPs would no longer be able to keep the practice open. Thankfully a remedy was found for St Martin’s, with a well-established local family practice now running the surgery.

“The shortage of GPs is especially acute in areas with soaring demands on surgeries due, for example, to a more elderly population or to higher levels of deprivation, both of which result in complex health needs.

“Surgeries in these areas tend to find it harder to recruit because the workload can be far greater and more complex, but the pay remains the same. Bristol is rightly considered a terrific place to live, but it is of course close to many more rural areas where healthcare demands on GPs are very different.

“Under previous administrations, the NHS gave additional support to GP practices in areas of high need, but sadly the current Government seems to have no plan to do this, effectively leaving surgeries open to market forces.”

Last month the Public Accounts Committee, of which Karin Smyth is a member, issued a report in which it found demand for general practice grew faster than capacity throughout the last decade, and warned of major problems with recruitment and retention

The Committee also expressed concern that, in cases where people do not have easy access to information about general practice, “they may go to A&E instead or do nothing at all”.

In summary, the Committee found the Department of Health and NHS England “appear to have been complacent about general practice’s ability to cope with the increase in demand caused by rising public expectations and the needs of an ageing population, many of whom have multiple health conditions”.

The figures quoted come from the GP Patient Survey, run by Ipsos MORI on behalf of NHS England. They show that in 2015, 31 per cent of people living in the Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group area who had to wait a week or more to see or speak to their GP or couldn’t get an appointment at all the last time they tried.