GP Services On 'Brink Of Collapse', Doctors' Conference Told

GP services are on the "brink of collapse", a leading doctor has said as it emerged that a "record" number of practices closed last year.

Doctors at the British Medical Association's (BMA) annual meeting in Bournemouth heard that nearly 200 practices shut their doors to patients last year.

Meanwhile there has been a stark rise in the number of patients seeking care from their GP, yet a quarter of appointments are "avoidable", the conference heard.

One in four patients seen by GPs could have cared for themselves at home, been seen by another health professional or their appointments had been made for "inappropriate or bureaucratic purposes", leading medic Dr Chaand Nagpaul said.

He added: "Every wasted GP appointment is an appointment denied to a sick patient."

Dr Nagpaul, who is to take over as chair of the BMA council later this week, accused the Government of turning a "blind eye" to patients by ignoring pleas from the profession.

He told delegates: "The individual GP practice unit is frighteningly vulnerable, with one in 10 practices surveyed saying they're not financially sustainable.

"A record number of practices closed last year – not surprising with one in three practices unable to fill GP vacancies."

He added: "General practice remains on the brink of collapse, since fundamentally demand totally outstrips our impoverished capacity.

"We're seeing 50 million more patients annually in general practice compared to five years ago, with increasing care moving into the community and a growing older population – yet latest figures show that today we have fewer GPs per head than then.

"This mismatch has resulted in unmanageable workload with over eight in 10 GPs saying they can't provide safe care, which is an indictment of government policy that promotes safety in the NHS.

"We know that one in four GP appointments are avoidable – that's for patients who could have self-cared, or seen another professional, or appointments taken up for inappropriate or bureaucratic purposes.

"The priority must therefore be to liberate these appointments – that would in effect increase GP capacity by 25%, far greater than the political mirage of 5,000 more GPs – remembering that every wasted GP appointment is an appointment denied to a sick patient.

"Not wasting GP appointments is also key to addressing hospital pressures, since just a 6% reduction in GP appointment capacity would double the number of patients attending A&E if they went there instead – highlighting why under-resourcing general practice is so damaging for the NHS."

Medics at the conference also unanimously passed a motion calling for more money to be made available for GP surgeries "as a matter of urgency".

They also called for a "rapid" expansion of the workforce.

The motion, presented by Dr Richard Vaughtry, who is to become acting chairman of the union's General Practice Committee later this week, said that "the current workload pressure in general practice is unsafe and unsustainable".

"General practice is in crisis and the facts speak for themselves," Dr Vaughtry said.

"Patients are waiting longer and longer to get a routine GP appointment and yet 200 practices closed last year."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We recruited the highest number of GP trainees ever in 2016 - but crucially, we are giving GPs the financial backing to support improvements in patient care, with a £2.4 billion increase in funding, so we expect them to deliver for the public."