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27.04.17

NHS England has made ‘no progress’ on increasing GP numbers, says PAC

There has been “no progress” made by NHS England on increasing the number of GPs despite NHS England targets to train 5,000 more doctors by 2020, MPs have today warned.

In its ‘Access to General Practice: progress review’ report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that since its last report a year ago, at the time when the GP Forward View was developed, little had been done to actually deliver the ambitions set out in the strategy.

This follows figures that showed the number of doctors in general practice had actually fallen between March 2016 and September 2016, contrary to the strategy’s plans. 

PAC stated: “The number of GPs has fallen in the last year, from 34,592 full-time equivalent doctors in September 2015 to 34,495 in September 2016.

“Increasing this number relies on both increasing the recruitment of trainees and improving the retention of the existing workforce, but Health Education England still lacks a credible plan for ensuring that there are enough GPs and that they are in the right areas.

“Health Education England accepted that more could be done to promote general practice as a career choice, and highlighted work underway to make training options more flexible. NHS England added it has a development programme in place to tackle workload in general practice.”

On top of this, the committee raised concern that patient outcomes were being affected due to GP services being closed at core hours.

PAC stated that 46% of practices closed at some point during core hours of 8am to 6.30pm, and 18% closed by 3pm at least one afternoon a week.

However, NHS England did tell the committee that practices were being given additional funding to open over more core hours, and that if they still did not increase opening hours this funding would be cut off.

The MPs also warned that patients relied too heavily on seeing GPs, rather than nurses or mental health professionals and other members of staff. They claimed this meant that some practices were not being run efficiently and staff were not always being properly applied.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “Some 17 million people now have access to GP appointments at evenings and weekends and the public is clear they want this across England.

“This month, directions have been issued which mean practices shutting for half-days each week will lose their share of the £88m enhanced access scheme.

“The 10% increase in GP trainee numbers since 2015 will help boost the workforce – further improving access for patients and reducing the pressure on GPs.”

And  Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chair, said:"This is yet another important report that highlights that general practice is under incredible strain with many GP practices struggling to cope with rising patient demand in a climate of stagnating budgets and staff shortages.

"Precious resources are being diverted to offer routine weekend appointments in some parts of the country when at the same time many GP services are struggling to provide effective, safe care to their patients during weekday opening hours and in urgent care settings in evenings and weekends.

"In this climate, it is inevitable that despite the continued hard work of NHS staff, there are not enough appointments being delivered to patients. With many parts of the NHS at breaking point, we need politicians of all parties to not duck the serious challenges facing general practice in the upcoming general election.”

In addition, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that the RCGP shared the frustrations of PAC that despite promises of more investment in general practice and more GPs, patients were finding it increasingly difficult to make a GP appointment, and family doctors were reporting intense resource and workforce pressures that are making it difficult for them to deliver safe patient care.

GPs and our teams are working flat out to deliver more patient consultations than ever before – recent research has shown that our workload has risen 16% over the last seven years.

"The fact that patients are finding it difficult to make an appointment is not because we are not working hard enough, it is because we don’t have the resources and workforce necessary to deliver the care and services our patients need and deserve."

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