The new Chair of the Royal College of GPs has warned that general practice has been running on empty for too long and GPs are working under intense pressure with a workload that is escalating and causing many to burn out and leave the profession.

The college has called on Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock for urgent action to deliver the 6,000 additional GPs promised in the General Election manifesto so that patients no longer have to face 'unacceptable' waits for a GP appointment.

In his first letter to the Secretary of State, Professor Martin Marshall quotes Boris Johnson's pledge to tackle waiting times, saying: "As the Prime Minister points out, no patient should have to wait three weeks for a GP appointment. This is unacceptable and our patients, and GPs, deserve better."

Professor Marshall's comments come in the wake of a new 'Workforce Roadmap', launched by the College today, which sets out what must be done to ensure general practice has enough GPs and practice staff to deliver safe, high-quality patient care, now and in the future.

RCGP's vision for the future of general practice 

He calls for urgent attention to be given to workforce planning, education and training - and the quality of working life for GPs - if the Government is to achieve its manifesto pledge of the 6,000 more GPs and 50 million more patient consultations.

General practice makes the majority of patient contacts in the NHS and workload is increasing. From September-November 2019 GPs in England made 41.9m patient consultations – 450,000 more than the same period the previous year.

However, from September 2018 – September 2019 the number of fully-qualified full-time-equivalent GPs fell from 28,654 to 28,315, meaning that GPs delivered 1.1% more appointments with 1.2% fewer FTE fully-qualified GPs. When all health professionals working in general practice are considered, there were 84.6m appointments in the three months to November 2019 - an increase of 2.7% on the same period in the previous year.

The Workforce Roadmap, the first of three to come out of Fit for the Future – the RCGP's vision for the future of general practice – calls for:

  • clear targets for expanding the entire general practice workforce and for the forthcoming People Plan to include comprehensive detail on how this will be delivered, based on the Roadmap
  • a commitment to increase GP training places to 4,000 in 2020/21 and to 5,000 soon after
  • significant investment into initiatives to improve GP workload and retain existing GPs in the profession.

GPs must be given the support they need 

In the letter, Professor Marshall continues: "Unfortunately, general practice has been running on empty for too long and GPs are working under intense pressure with a workload that is escalating and causing many to burn out and leave the profession – and facing difficulties recruiting GPs and other members of staff to manage this demand.

"The impact of these measures will be to significantly improve the access to our service and the quality of the care we can give to our patients.

"As you have said many times, general practice is the bedrock of the NHS and alleviates pressure right across the health service, particularly secondary care. The general practice workforce – GPs, nurses, and other clinical and non-clinical staff – are central to ensuring that the NHS continues to deliver high-quality care to patients.

"We know that the new Government is taking [the pressures facing general practice] seriously and we hope that you will deliver quickly on your General Election manifesto pledge of 6,000 additional GPs in England and millions more patient appointments. GPs must be given the support they need to give patients the high-quality care they deserve."