Cause & Impact: As More GPs Reduce Their Hours

In Healthcare, Industry News, Insurance by Claire Ginnelly

More than a third of GPs have reduced their hours in the past year (and another two-thirds are planning to)…

GP waiting times in England are set to worsen, as more family doctors are set to follow in the footsteps of many of their counterparts and cut their hours this year, a report by the medical watchdog suggests.

According to the research by the General Medical Council (GMC), more than a third (36%) of GPs reduced their hours in 2019 and two-thirds are considering doing so this year. It’s a reality that left millions of patients unable to secure a GP appointment last year.

Indeed, statistics show that record numbers of patients are facing long waits to see GPs, with over a third (34.3%) having to wait at least eight days. A further 5.8 million patients are waiting at least two weeks, while there has been an 18% increase in the number waiting at least a month in the past year.

GPs are distressed and patient care is suffering as a result

The GMC survey of almost 4,000 medics also provides some valuable insights into why many GPs have reduced their hours, and why many more are considering doing so.

For more than 1,000 GPs, the long hours and heavy workloads associated with the job are causing them distress. Worryingly, one in three said patient care had suffered as a result. In fact, 92% of GPs polled said they felt unable to provide patients with a sufficient level of care on several occasions over the past year. More than a quarter felt this way every day.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of GPs said they work beyond their contracted hours every day – an increase of almost 20% over the previous year.

Sadly, the report also found that a fifth of GPs are considering quitting the medical profession altogether within the next year.

The situation is exacerbated by declining GP numbers

One of the knock-on effects of GPs being stressed out by a high workload is inappropriate hospital referrals. For example, the report found that more than a third of GPs said they have made a patient referral that wasn’t strictly necessary over the past year, with a quarter of GPs doing so at least once a month.

Bureaucracy, time constraints and ‘unsafe’ working conditions have left 50% of GPs feeling dissatisfied in the roles. Is it any wonder that recent NHS figures show the number of full-time GPs has dropped by more than 300 in the past year!?

Furthermore, the number of GP practices in England is at a record low after 270 shut down in 2019.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, warned that patients will suffer if GP availability declines further. “It is already difficult to secure appointments, leading to longer waits for people when they have concerns about their health and greater risks to patient safety,” she said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “GPs are the bedrock of the NHS and we are working hard to recruit and retain more family doctors, with record numbers having accepted a GP training place.”

The problem accessing GPs appears to be getting worse. Many health insurance policies give access to a virtual GP which solves the problem of long waits for many patients.

Claire Ginnelly is the Managing Director of Premier Choice Health and has been in the private medical insurance industry since 1991. All her experience has been gained working for large insurance companies managing the distribution of health insurance products through intermediaries. She has held senior positions within Standard Life Healthcare, as Head of Intermediary Sales, and Groupama Healthcare, as Head of Distribution.