Public Wants Increase in GPs to Improve Services: Survey

Peter Russell

August 24, 2021

Almost half of people in England want to see an increase in the number of GPs, according to a survey by the British Medical Association (BMA).

Results of the poll came as the doctors' union launched a 'Support Your Surgery' campaign aimed at helping GP practices manage expectations about the issues and pressures facing primary care.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GP committee chair at the BMA, said they wanted to be "upfront and honest with our patients".

Increasing the number of GPs was by far the most popular choice among possible improvements to general practice, backed by 44% of the 1732 adults surveyed online in the first week of August.

Other suggestions  were to:

  • Increase the number of available phone lines in GP practices (14%)

  • Increase the number of non-GP healthcare staff (10%)

  • Increase the number of practice nurses (7%)

Catching Up With a Backlog of Work

When asked who they believed was responsible for addressing a backlog of routine appointments in general practice following the pandemic, 27% said it was the Government's responsibility, 26% thought it was the responsibility of GP surgeries themselves, and 19% would task NHS management with the role.

Infection control measures implemented in surgeries because of COVID-19 were supported by 58% of those polled. However, the BMA said GPs were aware of how frustrating these had been. Its recent survey found that 1 in 5 GPs had reported being threatened, while 67% said their experience of abuse, threatening behaviour, or violence had worsened in the past 12 months.

Dr Vautrey said: "We, like the rest of the NHS, were ill-prepared for the pandemic – with decades of underfunding and seriously short on staff –, and the consequences of the last 18 months have added significantly to these pressures.

Violence and Abuse

"They have also been understandably very stressful for patients and, sadly, this has resulted in poor behaviours, or worse, with some staff reporting cases of abuse and violence from patients."

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) condemned any abuse or threats of physical violence directed at those working in general practice as "entirely unacceptable".

Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said: "The real issue is that we have a huge shortage of GPs and our workforce is not big enough to manage the needs of an ageing and growing patient population with increasingly complex needs."

He urged the Government to deliver on a manifesto promise of 6000 more GPs by 2024, plus an additional 26,000 practice staff.

Last week, Prof Dame Clare Gerada, newly appointed as president of the RCGP, told Medscape News UK that her first priority would be to support GPs who had been left exhausted by their work throughout the pandemic.

She said: "We have a crisis because we have GPs who are burned out, demoralised, and depressed, who have born the brunt of complaints and assaults, who are just trying their best and then leaving because they can't cope."

She warned that pressure on general practice would continue to increase unless the Government addressed staffing levels.

Looming Winter Pressures

The BMA has set up an online petition for people in England to make their views known to the Government.

Urging the public to sign in support of more GP recruitment and more funding for general practice, Dr Vautrey said: "It’s important that patients understand the reality of this crisis and that, despite the easing of lockdown, the pressures on general practice will only get worse if nothing is done.

"Not only is COVID-19 still a threat, but GPs also continue to deliver the vaccine rollout. Annual winter pressures and the 'flu season could make things worse, and the backlog of care is constantly growing."

A spokesperson for NHS England said: "Record numbers of people are now training to become GPs, with up to 4000 people expected to start this year.

"The NHS has also introduced financial incentives for those who complete their training in more deprived parts of the country, as well as investing in a number of schemes to retain and recruit over 6000 GPs and over 26,000 to the wider general practice workforce."

Article image credit: allinvisuality/iStock/Getty

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