GPs are often viewed as the gatekeepers of the NHS. That’s because they are the first point of contact for many patients, and visiting one often leads to further services within the health service.
In fact, GPs account for 90% of all patient contact with the NHS, and it’s for this reason that many people close to the health service are stressing the importance of general practice funding.
Many of the UK’s 9,770 GP surgeries are struggling to meet the healthcare demands of the country’s growing and ageing population. Even though the pressure being placed on them has risen, the number of GPs has remained static.
Indeed, new research from the Labour Party shows that around 14.2 million patients waited a week for an appointment with their GP, or did not get an appointment at all the first time they tried.
For comparison, this figure is 500,000 greater than 2014; a reality that shows the increasing pressure being placed on GP surgeries across the country.
The Labour Party conducted the research using information found in the House of Commons library, and it comes just months after a report in the Guardian which revealed that some patients in Surrey had to queue outside their GP surgery in the dark from 6:30am just to secure an appointment.
The shadow health secretary, Heidi Alexander, said: “Millions more are struggling to see their doctor and cuts to funding mean this is likely to get worse.”
However, NHS England has recently revealed a five-year plan which is designed to help general practice get “back on its feet”. The plan will see an additional £2.4 billion worth of funds injected into general practice, which will help provide an extra 5,000 GPs, as well as thousands of nurses, pharmacists and therapists.
For many, including the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of GPs, the funds can’t come soon enough. Both establishments have been raising concerns regarding underfunding, increasing workloads and the lack of trainee doctors prepared to go into general practice.
NHS England boss Simon Stevens said the additional funding was being provided because patients had complained about waiting times and that it was now time to intervene.
Talking to Sky News, Stevens said: “What is a reasonable wait depends on what the patient needs dealing with.
“What we also want to do is free up time for GPs from a lot of the red tape and paper pushing the NHS has imposed on them.”
The five-year plan will see GP surgeries coming together to manage patient demand and their opening hours will be extended over evenings and weekends. Patients will also be encouraged to seek help advice from other healthcare professionals to relieve some of the pressure on GPs.
According to the BBC, the additional £2.4 billion funding will bring the total spent on general practice by 2020 to £12 billion. This means that in just four years from now, more than 10% of the NHS’s budget will be being spent on general practice. At present, that figure sits at just over 8%.
As we can see, more and more people are reporting problems getting quick access to a GP. It is welcome news to hear that more funding will be available to help ease this problem. Many private medical insurers have also recognised this problem and, as a result, they have added the benefit of a virtual GP which gives policyholders quick access to a GP online or via a webcam/Skype facility.
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