GP recruitment efforts in the UK may need to be stepped up in the coming years as the NHS adjusts to the rising demand for community-based services among patients.
General practice has always formed a crucial part of NHS care provision, often providing a valuable first point of contact between patients and the healthcare system, as well as offering personalised one-to-one care that is not always possible in busy hospitals. However, its importance could be set to grow further due to changing organisational practices and patient habits.
These evolving trends were recently highlighted by a report from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), which analysed data from the most recent GP Patient Survey from December 2013 and found that GPs are now seeing more patients than ever before.
The average number of consultations carried out by each GP in England per year has increased from 9,264 in 2008 to 10,714, while each GP practice in the country is estimated to have dealt with 4,384 more consultations in 2011/12 compared to 2004/05.
Meanwhile, between 2008/09 and 2011/12 the total number of consultations in general practice - including visits to both GPs and practice nurses - is thought to have risen from 300.4 million to 340 million.
Reasons for this increase include a growing and ageing population, with an increasing number of patients suffering from multiple conditions, while the improved efficiency of GPs has helped them to provide more appointments.
However, this rise in demand has not been accompanied by an appropriate and proportionate rise in funding levels, meaning 10 per cent of patients who sought a consultation with a GP or a practice nurse in 2012/13 failed to get one - up from nine per cent in June 2012.
The RCGP has warned that the number of people seeking appointments and consultations with their local doctors is only set to increase, a view that is borne out by recent government announcements suggesting GPs will be given a bigger role than ever in the NHS organisational structure.
For example, the most recent GP contract revisions signalled the start of a move back to the traditional family doctor model, with GPs taking responsibility for planning and coordinating individualised care plans for patients, in close cooperation with other medical specialists.
The aim of this is to ensure fewer patients need to visit hospital other than in emergency situations, receiving treatment and advice in community settings instead. However, for this to happen effectively, practices need to be given the funds and resources necessary to expand their capabilities and recruit more staff. Doing so would create more opportunities for locum workers and ensure that all patients treated under the NHS receive the quality of care they deserve.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: "GPs and practice nurses want to provide high-quality care for every single patient who seeks a consultation, and over the last decade we have increased the number of patients we see each year in England by 40 million."
She added: "If the government and NHS England really want to give general practice the tools to provide high-quality and comprehensive care in the community, they must increase funding for the sector to 11 per cent of the NHS budget by 2017."
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