GPs in ‘really tough’ situation as patient numbers rise, says RCGP chairman

GPs are facing a “really tough” situation at the moment as they deal with rising numbers of patients, and are also seeing people suffer due to the cost-of-living crisis, the head of the Royal College of GPs has said.

Professor Martin Marshall told Times Radio that when he started out in general practice 30 years ago he might see 20 patients, but now he sees 50 or 60 and the “days are really long, often 12 or 13 hours”.

He added: “So, the pressures are enormous and those pressures are a consequence of rising need and rising demand for general practice services and the reducing number of GPs that are able to provide those services.”

Asked about the new Health Secretary’s pledges to increase access to GPs, he said that “people need to be able to get good access, but once they see a health professional, they need to see somebody who is able to provide high quality care for them, able to provide safe care for them and even that is increasingly difficult”.

He added: “It’s very difficult to provide personalised care for patients when the volume is so great.

“It’s difficult sometimes to provide effective care for our patients and, increasingly, from a survey that the Royal College of General Practitioners carried out recently, a large number of GPs – 68% of GPs – say they even feel that it’s increasingly difficult to provide safe care.

“They’re worried that they might miss an important diagnosis because of the pressures of work, they are worried they might make a prescribing error for example.

“So general practice is in a significant crisis – I don’t think crisis is too big a word – a significant crisis right now.”

Prof Marshall said problems had been building “for over a decade” due to a long-term lack of investment in general practice “and lack of attention from policymakers”.

He added: “We’ve got a very clear set of asks, which is about increasing the size of the general practice workforce, increasing the size of other health professionals who work in general practice now, reducing the amount of bureaucracy in order to allow clinicians to have time to care, investment in technology to allow us to provide modern healthcare for the patients that we look after…”

He said such measures were necessary to “keep general practice on its feet, and if we don’t do that the rest of the NHS will collapse as well”.

Prof Marshall said more people were using technology, adding that online consultations and triaging is “an important part of the answer”, but there are other answers as well.

Asked about the cost-of-living crisis, Prof Marshall said he works in a deprived community in east London.

He said: “I’m seeing a growing number of older people who are unable to make hospital appointments because they can’t afford the bus fare.

“I’m seeing parents talking about how they’re giving up food in order to be able to feed their children, and we are expecting significant problems with rising infections as a consequence of people turning off their heating as the autumn and winter comes along.

“So the cost-of-living crisis is having a very significant impact on all of our communities, particularly in deprived areas, and general practices are on the front line of seeing those effects.”