Analysis published by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) shows that if current trends continue, patients will have to wait until 2045 for the 8,000 extra GPs promised by Labour and UKIP in their manifestos; and until 2034 to realise the 5000 more family doctors proposed at the Conservative Party conference.
The College is calling on whichever party or parties win the election to introduce an urgent package of measures to recruit new GPs, retain existing family doctors and encourage those who have taken a career break to return to the profession and frontline patient care.
The predictions came on the same day as a new opinion poll of 1,000 people in key marginal constituencies, also commissioned by the RCGP, reveals that almost nine in 10 cite protecting GP services as a high priority for political parties ahead of the election – and half of those surveyed (50%) anticipate that they will have to wait longer for a GP appointment over the next two years, with just 4% believing that waiting times will get shorter.
Carried out by ComRes, it surveyed adults in the top 40 ‘swing vote' constituencies in England – where the Conservative and Labour parties shared first and second place at the 2010 Election – about their views and experiences of general practice.
Of these, 89% said that they believed protecting local GP services should be a ‘very high’ or ‘fairly high’ priority for the competing political parties.
When asked about patient safety, 60% of adults were concerned that GPs routinely making between 40-60 patient contacts a day was a threat to the standard of care they can provide.
There are currently 35,819 family doctors (excluding trainees and returners) in England but between 2013 and 2014, the number of GPs increased by only 258.
The College estimates that 8,000 more GPs will be needed in England by 2020 to keep pace with patient demand. GPs and their teams currently manage over 90% of patient contacts in the NHS, for just 8.4% share of the budget in England – a record low.
The ageing and growing population across the UK, as well as a recent baby boom, have led to unprecedented pressures on GPs and their teams who are now making over 370m patient consultations a year – 70m more than five years ago and 150,000 extra patients per day.
But while GP workloads have rocketed and diseases have become more complex, the number of GPs per registered patient in England has remained stagnant at just 6.65 per 10,000, significantly lower than its peak coverage of 7.0 in 2009.
Previous research by the RCGP showed that a third of GPs are considering retirement within the next two years, amid concerns about intense workload pressures driving trained GPs out of the profession – but insufficient medical graduates are going into general practice to replace them.
The RCGP has launched its Put patients first: Back general practice campaign, calling for general practice to receive 11% of the overall NHS budget, and for 10,000 more GPs across the UK by the end of the next Parliament.