THE BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION has responded to the latest GP appointment and workforce data for England, published on 24 November.

Dr Kieran Sharrock, deputy chair of GPC England at the British Medical Association (BMA), said: “Today’s data makes for alarming reading.  “We have nearly 1,900 fewer full time fully qualified GPs since September 2015, yet the number of face-to-face appointments is going up and many GPs are also continuing to offer remote consultations to make sure patients can still get the care they need, in a way that suits them. Month on month, GPs and their teams are doing all they can to safely spread the workload, with many offering appointments with other staff, like practice-based paramedics or nurses.

“However, these ways of working do not make up for the shortfall in GPs. Without the workforce and support we need, GPs will forever be caught in a vicious cycle of burnout and exhaustion, sacrificing their own wellbeing, pushing even more to reduce their hours or leave the NHS altogether. These figures show how busy practices are, especially on top of the dramatic increase in seasonal vaccination appointments – but there’s a limit to what general practice can safely deliver with such a depleted workforce.

“We need real solutions to the staffing crisis, and to make general practice a safe place to work so that doctors can continue treating patients.  This includes Government addressing long-standing issues that are driving doctors away, such as unsafe and unsustainable workloads and punitive pension taxation rules. Only then will we be able to deliver the care our patients need and deserve.”

On data being released at practice level, Dr Sharrock added: “It is not possible to define why there is variation between practices in terms of the type and timing of appointments being offered to their patients. With more than 6,000 practices in England, there will obviously be some differences in the way they operate and how staff provide care for their local communities. This will depend on many factors – patient choice and the size and age of the population the practice serves are just some examples.

“None of these nuances are taken into account in today’s data and rather than this being a useful tool to aid patient choice, it is really no more than  a way to ‘name and shame’ practices when the morale of dedicated staff is at rock bottom. Ultimately, such data should be used to support, not punish practices. If the Government was serious about improving access to general practice it would address the huge shortfall in doctors, rather than simply piling more pressure and expectation on to the ones that we already have and so desperately need to hang on to.”

* The GP Appointment data for England is available here.

* The General Practice Workforce data for England is available here.

* Source: British Medical Association