The variation in the availability of GPs in different parts of England is shocking, doctors’ leaders say. A BBC analysis has found close to a threefold difference between the areas with the most and fewest doctors. In one area – Swale in Kent – there is only one GP for every 3,300 patients, while in Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire it is just under one for every 1,200.
The Royal College of GPs said the shortages put care at risk, but NHS chiefs said issues were being tackled. More doctors are being trained and community services have been made a priority for investment under the 10-year plan announced earlier this month. However, RCGP chairwoman Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said none of that addressed the urgent problems the profession was facing. She said the differences in the number of GPs was “shocking” and “surprising”. “It suggests there are areas of the country that are really struggling to get the GPs they need. Over the past decade, general practice has not received the investment it needs.”
She believes the health service in England is 6,000 doctors short of what it needs – it currently has just over 34,000 – and the problems meant care was “not safe” in some places. Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power said the findings were “worrying”. She said as well as risking safety, shortages also meant “increased difficulty in securing an appointment, and longer waits”.
The analysis looks at the number of patients per GP in each local NHS area – known as clinical commissioning groups. It shows a threefold difference between the areas with the most GPs and least. There is no official recommendation for how many patients a GP should have. That is because the demand each patient places on their GP is different.
Older patients, young children or people with long-term conditions, such as diabetes, will need to see their GPs more than others. If a doctor has a lot of these patients on their books, they will not be able to cope with as many patients. That could be behind some of the differences that are being seen, but not all, the RCGP said.
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