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Inconsistent GP numbers across England.24th January 2019 Clinical Negligence
The GP is traditionally our first point of call when we become unwell, however a recent analysis by the BBC has revealed that there is a vast difference in the number of GPs available dependant on which part of England a patient lives.
The analysis found that there is a difference between areas with the most and fewest GPs by almost threefold. It was reported that Swale in Kent had just one GP for every 3,300 patients, in comparison to Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire which had just under one GP for every 1,200 patients.
Such shortages put care and patients at risk, as well as putting more strain and stress on already short staffed doctors. This in turn increases the likelihood of more mistakes being made. In our experience these mistakes can completely devastate live and can leave patients dealing with lifelong injuries or even loss of life. My colleague Katy Renton recently posted a blog on the NHS Long Term Plan, which aims to tackle this issue. Part of the 10-year plan focusses on training more doctors and community services being made a priority. However, what is to be done about the situation now?
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chairwoman for the Royal College of GPs, has said that ‘over the past decade, general practice has not received the investment it needs’. She goes onto say that she believes that ‘the health service in England is 6,000 doctors short of what it needs it currently has just over 34,000 and the problems meant care was “not safe„ in some places’. The knock on effect of low GP numbers also increases the difficulty of securing an appointment and having to wait longer to be seen.
Although there is no recommendation for the number of patients a GP should have, each patient and their personal health needs are different. It could be that one particular area has an increased number of young or elderly patients, or patients with a long-term health condition who require more regular trips to the GP, such as a diabetes patient. It could also be that there are a concentrated number of such patients within one area and so that particular GP is unable to meet the needs of as many patients, compared to others. A further study found that data provided by NHS Digital dating back to 2015 revealed that the number of GPs employed has slightly decreased, whilst their patient population has risen.
NHS England are said to be increasing the budget spent on general practice in a bid to employ 5,000 more GPs, however it is important to take into account the number of years it takes to train as a GP. The Royal College of GPs have stated that they would like to see more incentives placed to encourage GPs to work in areas where there is a shortage of doctors. “Golden hellos„ worth £20,000 have been used in the past to help attract GPs to some areas where GP numbers are low. NHS England also aims to “free up extra resource for GP services in every community„ by the extra investment being made in the NHS which includes thousands of nurses, pharmacists and other health care staff working alongside GPs.
In the meantime it appears to be a waiting game to see if GP numbers improve.
The clinical negligence team at JMW are experienced in dealing with delayed GP diagnosis. If you would like to have a confidential discussion with a member of our team, please do not hesitate to contact us.