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GP care quality 'sliding due to rising workloads'

February 08, 2016

Patients and medical workers across the country could be at an increased risk of safety incidents as a result of mounting workloads, a new survey of GPs has indicated.

The British Medical Association (BMA) recently conducted a poll of almost 2,900 GP practices in England to get an impression about their concerns about current workloads. It was revealed that many doctors are struggling with unmanageable caseloads that are impairing their ability to provide the high-quality care required by patients.

A growing problem
Of those practices surveyed, 55 per cent reported that the quality of service in their practice had deteriorated in the past 12 months, with the same percentage describing their workload as being unmanageable a lot of the time.

Moreover, 13 per cent said their workload was consistently impossible to manage, compared to only two per cent of those polled who said they had a low or generally manageable workload.

It was also revealed that 92 per cent of GPs have observed a rise in demand for appointments in the past year, indicating that this is a problem that is likely to become even worse unless the government takes action to address and correct the trend.

Breaking the results down on a regional basis, it was shown that the West Midlands had the highest level of unmanageable workloads, with 16 per cent of GP practices reporting this as a problem, whereas the south of England saw the biggest deterioration in patient care, as 66 per cent of GPs in the area observed a downward trend.

The figures could have a negative impact on patients and staff alike, as overworked professionals are much more likely to make mistakes and potentially endanger themselves through accidents and needlestick injuries.

Dr Beth McCarron, a GP executive team member at the BMA, pointed out that 600 GP trainee positions were left unfilled in 2015, while one-third of the workforce is considering retirement in the next five years.

She added: "GP practices are seeing 150,000 more patients each day than in 2010, but have seen no extra resources to maintain effective, safe care to the public. With an ageing population, this pressure is only likely to increase in the years to come."

Potential courses of action
To help highlight and address the issue, the BMA has produced a heatmap of parliamentary constituencies showing the worst-affected areas. It will also launch a new initiative for GP practices, which will involve sending every practice in England a package of support materials, including guidance on safer workload management.

It is also lobbying the government to do more to reduce workloads, increase practice funding and hire more staff to support GPs, while minimising the amount of needless bureaucracy with which they need to cope.

Dr McCarron said: "Politicians have to realise that general practice is currently running on empty. GPs desperately want to provide the best possible service for patients: this is why GPs became doctors. But we have to be given the tools and support to provide patients with the service they deserve.

"The government has to realise that we cannot go on with a crisis situation where sliding quality of care becomes an accepted part of general practice."

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