GPs in England and Wales are under so much pressure they feel they are potentially providing unsafe care, according to doctor’s leaders.
British Medical Association (BMA) GP leader Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said that in many cases, GPs were having to rush patients just to keep up with demand and as a result, there was a risk this could lead to doctors making potentially serious errors such as misdiagnosing a patient’s cancer and prescribing them with the wrong medication.
Dr Nagpaul’s admission comes as the BMA releases the results of an online survey of more than 3,000 GP practices in England and Wales. The findings reveal that 55 per cent of practices in England believed the quality of the service they were providing had deteriorated over the past 12 months.
In addition, almost 92 per cent said that demand for appointments had risen over the last year and nearly 70 per cent said their workload was unmanageable. Similar results were reported in Wales where 96.5 per cent of 137 respondents said demand had increased compared to the previous year.
Dr Nagpaul said: "It is unsustainable and getting to the point where it is not safe. The ageing population means many of our patients have multiple conditions and are on multiple medicines, but we simply don't have the time to properly consider how they interact.
"On cancer we are having to make rushed decisions. And we are seeing growing numbers of patients with dementia - and yet just have 10 minutes to see them.
"It's not enough. We are being forced to let down patients. We need to see more investment in general practice so we can keep up with demand."
At present, there are an estimated 370m consultations a year in England – an increase of 70m in just five years. Over the same period, only 500 new GPs have joined the profession, and since 2009, the number of GPs per head of population has fallen to 60.6 per 100,000 people. One in 10 GP trainee places went unfilled last year and doctors believe another 10,000 GPs are needed to plug the resulting gap.
In response to the findings, the Government says it is addressing concerns by delivering a record further five per cent of funding to GPs every year.
These findings show just how serious the challenges facing general practice in England and Wales have become. Last year a Royal College of GPs paper entitled ‘Patient safety implications of general practice workload’ warned how the “persistent and excessive workload” GPs were facing was threatening patient health by increasing the risk of doctors inadvertently misdiagnosing illnesses or prescribing the wrong medication.
Clearly, that threat is still at large and without urgent investment to alleviate GP workloads and patient demand, which are both currently at unprecedented levels, this crisis is only going to continue.