A new report from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has called for the government to ensure more GP jobs are created within the NHS over the next few years.
Research carried out by the college has called for the Department of Health to increase the share of the NHS budget going to general practice from 8.39 per cent now to 11 per cent by 2017, starting with an increase of one percentage point next year.
Official figures reveal that in 2002, there were 27,200 full-time GPs, compared to 24,800 hospital consultants. However, a recent focus on recruiting for hospitals has caused this balance to be reversed - in 2012, there were 38,200 hospital-based professionals, compared to only 31,700 family doctors.
It is expected that this discrepancy is likely to become even more pronounced over the next few years unless a new change of policy is effected, a move that the RCGP believes is necessary to ensure the needs of patients are being met.
Around 27 million patients in England are expected to have to wait for a week or more to see their GP in 2014, meaning many will choose to visit their local hospital for care rather than booking an appointment with their family doctor.
This trend will create issues for the Department of Health as it seeks to reduce the number of patients unnecessarily attending accident and emergency departments for non-urgent reasons.
It also comes at a time when the government is seeking to provide GPs with greater responsibilities in coordinating care for individual patients, with the aim of ensuring vulnerable people with long-term conditions receive personalised, tailored services.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: "We need to ensure that we have enough GPs to provide patients with good access to high-quality healthcare in local communities across the UK. Most people want to be looked after in their local community and they want to be able to see their GP quickly."
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