Worsening GP access highlights impact of underfunding

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Underfunding of GP services has led to increased patient waiting times and added pressures on the GP workforce, a survey reveals.

Data from the GP Patient Survey shows that access to surgeries has deteriorated over the last 5 years. In 2017 68% of patients felt it was easy to make an appointment, compared with 79% in 2012. In addition, there has been a 7% rise in patients waiting for more than a week before seeing a GP or practice nurse and a 10% decrease in patients being able to visit their preferred practitioner.

‘Overworked and underfunded GPs are struggling to cope with rising needs from patients. Across the country, GPs and practice staff are working to keep the service running,’ said Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Jonathon Ashworth.

This concern was echoed by Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who said: ‘This analysis backs up the warnings that the College has been making for some time ‒ that as a result of years of underinvestment in general practice, our patients are finding it increasingly difficult to make a GP appointment.

‘With such scarce resources for our profession and a huge shortage of GPs at the moment, the government's focus must be on delivering more funding to offer our existing five-day service ‒ and sufficient GPs and practice team members to deliver it.’

Out-of-hours access to GP services along with urgent GP care will remain available to patients across England. Prof Stokes-Lampard recognized that some practices have stopped offering extended opening hours due to minimal patient demand.

GPs are requesting NHS England provide an extra £2.4 billion to support their services, with an additional 5,000 GPs in practice by 2020. They emphasize that these changes must be implemented as a matter of urgency to ‘ensure patients receive the care they deserve, when they need it’.