Over 80% of UK GPs think patients are at risk in their surgery, survey finds | NHS

More than 80% of GPs believe patients are put at risk when they come to their practice for an appointment, according to a new survey.

A survey of 1,395 GPs found just 13% said their practice was safe for patients all the time. Meanwhile, 85% expressed concerns about patient safety, with 2% saying patients were “rarely” safe, 22% saying they were safe “sometimes” and 61% saying that they were safe “most of the time.”

When asked if they thought there was an increased risk to patient safety in their surgery, 70% said yes.

Family physicians have identified lack of time with patients, labor shortages, relentless workloads and heavy administrative burdens as the main reasons people receiving care could be at risk . The survey, which was self-selected, also found that:

  • 91% said more GPs would help improve the state of general practice.

  • 84% have had anxiety, stress or depression in the past year related to their work.

  • 31% know of a colleague who has been physically assaulted by a patient in the past year.

  • 24% know of a GP staff member who has committed suicide due to work pressures.

“Evidence shows that having already made 25 to 35 patient health decisions on any given day, as a GP, the risk of making the wrong decision increases,” said Dr Kieran Sharrock, GP in the Lincolnshire and the Deputy Chairman of the General Practitioners Committee of the British Medical Association.

“It could be prescribing an ineffective drug to a patient, or sending them back to the hospital when they’re not needed, or worse than that, not sending them back when they’re needed. For example, we miss a cancer red flag because we are already overloaded with decisions.

Sharrock is one of the leaders of a new campaign, called ‘Rebuild General Practice’, which calls for urgent action to improve GP services. Patients are waiting longer than before to get an appointment as surgeries struggle with a shortage of GPs and other staff such as receptionists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and workers mental health support.

When asked why they thought patient safety was at risk, 86% of GPs surveyed in England, Scotland and Wales said they did not have enough time to meet patient needs. Others cited the widespread shortage of GPs (77%), too many patients to care for (66%) and lack of staff (63%).

Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, who is backing the campaign, said: “The workforce crisis is the biggest problem facing the NHS. We may forget to fix the backlog unless we urgently come up with a plan to train enough doctors for the future and, most importantly, retain the ones we have.

In 2015 Hunt pledged to increase the number of GPs in England by 5,000 by 2020. He admitted he had missed this target because there were more early retirees than memberships.

Boris Johnson promised in the 2019 general election to increase the GP workforce by 6,000 by 2024-25. However, Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, admitted that pledge would also not be kept. A still high early retirement rate means that the number of full-time GPs continues to decline.

More than half agreed (29%) or strongly agreed (24%) that working as a GP is incompatible with a healthy family life, while only 24% would recommend GP as a career.

“We are at a turning point for general medicine. The workload has increased inexorably and the workforce has shrunk, and if this continues, general medicine will fail. It will be dangerous for patients and as a result the NHS will also fail because general practice is the bedrock of the NHS,” Sharrock added.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘There has been an increase of over 1,600 GPs over the past two years.

“Through the GP Access Plan, we have made £520 million available to improve access and expand GP capacity during the pandemic. This is on top of the £1.5bn announced in 2020 to create 50m more GP appointments by 2024 by increasing and diversifying the workforce.

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