The government is facing mounting pressure to investment in a fresh recruitment push in the general practice sector in order to help meet the rising demand the industry is seeing from patients.
General practice has played a key role in the provision of NHS care for decades, providing patients with a first point of contact and offering treatment for a wide range of mental and physical conditions. However, recent healthcare trends and demographic changes are likely to see GPs assume a more important role than ever in the coming years.
As such, it is becoming increasingly clear that additional GP jobs need to be created in order to help the sector adjust to changing realities - a message that numerous industry bodies are stepping up their efforts to communicate.
The increased demand for appointments
Recent research from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has shed light on the fact that more patients are booking appointments with their GPs than ever.
The average number of consultations carried out by English GPs per year has risen from 9,264 in 2008 to 10,714, with every practice estimated to have dealt with 4,384 more consultations in 2011/12 compared to 2004/05.
As such, patients in certain areas are finding it increasingly difficult to make appointments with their local doctors when they need them, leading to a situation that the RCGP describes as a "postcode lottery", with poorer areas being affected worse.
There are few reasons to believe these trends will reverse any time soon. The average age of the UK populace is rising, meaning more people than ever are likely to be affected by chronic conditions in future. Meanwhile, conditions such as obesity and diabetes continue to become more prevalent.
Moreover, the government is making efforts to place general practice at the very heart of NHS care provision, putting GPs in charge of coordinating patient care across multiple services and tasking them with leading a general transition from emergency-focused care to a more preventative model.
At the same time, GP opening hours are expected to be expanded, with technology such as telehealth systems and phone/email consultations making them more accessible than ever.
The case for additional recruitment
As a result of this, organisations such as the RCGP and the British Medical Association (BMA) have called on the government to allocate more funding to general practice in order to support the creation of new jobs that would help to guarantee the sustainability of general practice as the sector's scope and remit becomes broader.
The BMA has launched a campaign called Your GP Cares for the specific reason of highlighting the case for long-term investment increases. It believes that increasing the overall number of GPs and other practice staff - as well as enhancing practice facilities and premises - will be important to improving the overall standard of care.
The RCGP has backed these calls, highlighting the fact there are now 40 million more patients a year in general practice than there were five years ago as a prime reason why additional recruitment is necessary.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA's GP committee, said: "General practice can be a key solution to managing the increasing pressure on the health service, but only if it receives long-term, sustainable investment in the things that will make a real difference to patients."
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