Doctor computer systemMany GPs are finding it difficult to meet the needs of patients with existing resources due to an increase in the volume and complexity of consultations, a new report into GP commissioning and patient choice has revealed.

The government report, Improving GP services: commissioners and patient choice considered the views of 3,200 patients, interviews with 25 GP providers, and information from NHS England, the Care Quality Commission and other stakeholders.

It revealed that GPs provide more than 300 million consultations to patients in England each year. However, it found that due to the increasing complexity and volume of consultations GPs are struggling to meet the current demand. Additionally, the report found that:

  • Workforce shortages and a lack of funding, for example, to expand or relocate to new premises, are restricting GPs ability to expand capacity in response to patient needs
  • The payments some providers receive means they cannot operate on a financially viable basis
  • The current level of GPs is unlikely to keep pace with increasing demand and that workforce issues are particularly severe in economically deprived areas.

Crucially, there was also concern that some commissioners have awarded few new contracts to provide GP services in the past few years.

The report also considered the views of patients when it came to accessing GP services. It found that, although more than 90% of patients know they have the right to choose a GP practice and think that choice is important, few patients seek out information when choosing their GP practice. Instead, they typically choose their GP practice because it is close to their home, and not because of other things, such as the quality of diagnosis and treatment or how easy it is to make an appointment; things that perhaps should be considered when looking at a potential GP practice.

Additionally, the report found that:

  • Almost a third of patients think that they do not have alternative GP practices to choose from. However, in many cases, the authors suggest that this may be due to lack of awareness or research, rather than of a genuine alternative
  • Only a small minority of patients have been refused registration because of practice boundary areas and closed lists.

The report’s authors stated that although a substantial majority of patients are satisfied with their GP practice and the large majority of GP practices perform well against quality indicators, there are variations in how readily patients can access GP services and in the quality of services provided.

In order to see continued improvement, they have called on clinical commissioning groups to help improve GP services for patients, as they have been eligible to co-commission GP services with NHS England since April.