Research has found that many surgeries across the UK are struggling to cope with increasing demands from patients, with numerous patients reporting difficulties getting an appointment. In Whitehaven, Cumbria, the phone lines open at 8am and it’s commonplace for the 49 appointments for the day to be filled within 15 minutes. This is a situation that occurs at practices all over the UK.
Researchers believe that young doctors are put off by increasing pressure and workload, while there has also been an increase in doctors leaving the profession. Dr Guy Clayton, a Beverley based GP, said that he never expected to be saying that he was looking forward to his retirement from the NHS at the age of 48 years old, but the job has become much harder and the sheer volume of work is taking its toll on GPs across the country. Dr Clayton admitted that he was worried that general practice is close to being broken beyond repair.
An exclusive BBC Inside Out survey revealed that 56 percent of GPs in the UK plan to retire or change profession before they reach the age of 60 years old. only 6 percent of respondents said that they would definitely not be retiring before they turn 60. In Carlisle, a third of surgeries have unfilled vacancies for doctors, which translates to a shortfall of 20,000 patients.
Growing demand for GP services is also taking its toll on other health services, including out of hours clinics and on-call services. Cumbria Health on Call (CHOC) has reported a significant increase in calls resulting from people being unable to get appointments with their GP.
In response to the findings, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the situation as “worrying”, but promised that measures were in place to increase recruitment. The government has launched a new programme to encourage doctors into general practice and in some areas, private firms are helping to tackle the burden.
One of the main issues facing the government is the fact that the number of students pursuing careers in general practice is much lower than required. In 2013, only 20 percent of students chose general practice as their field, which is considerably lower than the target of 50 percent by 2016. Final year student Mitul Patel expressed the sentiments of many students, saying that the pressured environment of general practice is unappealing. There is also a belief that general practice has lost a degree of credibility within the industry and many students admit that they have been exposed to comments or environments that suggest general practice is somehow a “second rate” choice for students.