To ensure the smooth running of NHS operations, it is essential that all parts of the system are properly funded, staffed and supported. However, even among the highly-trained NHS workforce, GP staff play a crucial role in coordinating and providing care.
General practitioners are counted upon by patients to offer detailed consultations, provide initial diagnoses and devise a plan for treatment that could cover their entire journey through the healthcare system.
As such, it is crucial that GP services receive the proper level of funding to make sure they are able to fulfil their responsibilities - particularly at a time when the responsibilities placed on doctors are becoming broader and more complex than ever.
According to recent Deloitte research published on behalf of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), the number of patient consultations in England is estimated to rise to a high of 409 million in England by 2017/18, up from only 304 million in 2008/09.
The number of consultations in general practice has increased as the population has not only become larger, but has also grown older on average, with more and more people having multiple conditions or complex disorders that require highly personalised long-term care.
This coincides with a broader move by the government to change the way NHS care is provided, shifting the focus away from hospitals and into community settings in order to ensure diseases are treated more proactively, before they become life-threatening. Under this model, GPs will be responsible for overseeing broad-ranging treatment strategies while personally attending to the needs of patients, in the style of an old-fashioned family doctor.
With plans having been announced this week to extend GP opening hours and offer new individualised care plans to vulnerable older patients, it is clear that GPs are to play a more important part in the overall running of the NHS than ever.
Greater resources needed
As such, it is the view of organisations such as the British Medical Association and RCGP that more funding for general practice is needed, in order to ensure staffing levels are adequate and all the necessary resources are available.
Hiring more GPs, nurses and other medical professionals will make it easier to run these expanded services and handle the increased workload, but the RCGP has pointed out that funding levels for general practice are relatively low at the moment. In 2012/13, the sector accounted for 8.39 per cent of the overall NHS budget, but this is set to fall to 7.29 per cent by 2017/18.
The importance of GPs has not gone unnoticed by the public, however - a recent ComRes poll commissioned by the RCGP revealed 60 per cent of the public would like to see some funding moved from other parts of the health service into general practice, while 85 per cent said that if they had a serious long-term illness, they would prefer to be cared for at home with proper medical support from GPs and other professionals.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said: "Initiatives such as the Better Care Fund in England are an important first step in tackling the general practice funding gap and equipping GPs with the resources they need to improve care for the frail elderly. But we need to go further and faster, so that across the whole UK, every patient has equitable access to the high-quality care they need and deserve."
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