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Patients may walk away from NHS because of long GP waits, Britain’s leading family doctor warns

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/08/patients-may-walk-away-nhs-long-gp-waits-britains-leading-family/

By Laura Donnelly health editor

Patients could increasingly walk away from the NHS because of long waiting times to see a family doctor, Britain’s leading GP has warned.

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard said she was fearful that people would seek alternatives to the health service, because they could not face waits of up to four weeks to get help.

The chairman of the Royal College of GPs said family doctors were “really struggling” to cope with escalating demands on them, fuelling ever longer waiting times.

“My worry would be that this is driving people away from the NHS, that more people will turn to private providers, and online providers; that people in desperation will turn away from the NHS, and that would be tragic,” she said.

The Royal College is demanding a cash injection of £2.5bn for GP services by 2020/21, as part of a £20bn boost for the NHS promised by Theresa May.

Under current plans, GP services are due to receive £12bn of the NHS budget by 2020-21 – an increase of £2.4bn on its 2016/17 budget.

The funding was allocated as part of pledges in 2016 to boost the GP workforce by 5,000.

But since then, numbers have fallen by more than 1,000.

Today the RCGP said extra funds were needed to stem the crisis, by recruiting frontline staff to surgeries and investing in technology and better access to diagnostics.

Dr Stokes-Lampard said that without it, waiting times for GPs are likely to worsen, and only the sharp-elbowed and those able to pay for help likely to access it quickly.

“We hear reports from our members that some patients are waiting three weeks, even occasionally four weeks or longer for an appointment,” she said.

“As waiting times get longer and longer people start looking for an alternative,” she told The Daily Telegraph.

“It would widen inequalities further, so we would see people who know how to navigate the system able to fight for appointments and access while those with less of a voice may not be heard.”

Surveys suggest that patients in England are waiting an average of two weeks to see a GP – a three-day increase since 2015.

The GP also called for a larger portion of existing funds to be used to fund “golden hellos” to encourage trainee GPs to work in parts of the country that find it hardest to recruit.

Around 200 doctors have taken up places on schemes offering them a lump sum of £20,000 on top of annual earnings.

Dr Stokes-Lampard, a GP in Staffordshire, said family doctors were increasingly “firefighting” urgent health problems, without enough time to spend on long-term care of those with chronic problems.

“We don’t have time to give the time to long term conditions, so we are storing up problems for the future,” she said.

Extra funds for general practice would be spent on extra staff at the front line, allied health professionals, investment in diagnostics, in IT, and improved facilities, she said.

“GPs absolutely share our patients’ frustrations when we can’t see them when they need to be seen, but we’re also really concerned that this means patients with less serious conditions become more seriously ill because their conditions are not identified or treated in the early stages.

“GPs are firefighting the urgent problems, and the non-urgent problems have to wait as a result, whereas the strength of general practice is to aim to catch things early, so they can be treated early, in the community where patients want to be cared for, and where care is most cost-effective.

“Rather than individual lobbying groups plucking implausible figures from the air, the NHS is now carefully developing a long term plan for affordable and phased improvements over the coming decade.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “GPs are a crucial part of the NHS and we are still determined to deliver the commitment of recruiting an extra 5,000 doctors. Last year, Health Education England recruited the highest number of GP trainees ever and NHS England recently announced a new £10 million fund to retain more doctors.

“As part of our long term plan for the NHS, we are increasing funding by an average 3.4 per cent per year – meaning that by 2023/24 it will receive £20.5 billion a year more than it currently does.”