We regularly hear about the stresses on the NHS, but usually it is in terms of waiting lists and focusses on accident and emergency departments. In Brighton and Hove, however, the number of GPs has dropped to 0.63 per 1,000 residents, which is lower than the regional average of 0.8 per 1,000 and the national average of 0.7 per 1,000.
Why are there so few GPs – not just in Brighton and Hove, but nationwide – and what effect does this have?
Why are there so few GPs?
As a starting point, it is worth noting that the statistics are not necessarily due to a decrease in funding or raw numbers of GPs; they are affected significantly by population increase. The UK is experiencing a 0.8 per cent yearly population increase, so a static number of GPs will result in fewer GPs per thousand people.
Alarmingly, however, the number of GPs in full-time equivalent terms dropped by almost 2 per cent at the end of 2016, despite the government’s pledge to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020.
The GP workforce shrinkage is caused by a number of factors, including an aging workforce with more GPs retiring than newly qualifying, along with private provider contracts expiring, leading to a sharp dip in NHS GPs.
What does a low GP-to-patient ratio affect?
Fewer GPs relative to the population at large lead to high wait times for appointments, difficulty registering with a GP, and potentially rushed appointments as GPs’ resources are stretched.
There is, however, much more to worry about than that. UK clinical research will be affected, as clinical research patient recruitment services such as http://www.richmondpharmacology.com/patient-recruitment.php will have fewer GP points of access to draw from, potentially leading to difficulty filling clinical trials.
The other knock-on effect of reducing GP numbers is increased stress on secondary medical services. When people can’t get GP appointments for serious ailments, they go to clinics or A&E departments, adding substantial stress to these services that should be reserved for actual emergencies.
While this all seems fairly dire, it is important to note that the ratio of GPs to general population has remained relatively constant for the past 10 years, and the government has committed to increase GP numbers within the next few years.