House of Commons data shows that, over this parliament, 505 fewer GPs have been trained
The number of people having to wait a week or more to see or speak to a GP, or unable to get an appointment at all, has risen by 2.9 million since 2011.
That’s according to new analysis of the GP-Patient Survey by the House of Commons Library. Since the data was first collected in 2012, there has been a steady rise in patient dissatisfaction regarding opening hours: the proportion of people saying their GP surgery is not open at a convenient time has grown steadily from 15.69 per cent to 19.05 per cent.
And the proportion of people saying that they are dissatisfied with GP surgery’s opening hours has increased steadily from 6.98 per cent to 9.91 per cent.
This is why many patients will be sceptical when David Cameron lays out a pledge in his 2015 manifesto to guarantee access to GPs seven days a week. The prime minister made these promises in 2010 too – yet on taking office, he scrapped Labour’s extended hours scheme, cutting the funding from £3.01 per patient to £1.90. The scheme meant that three-quarters of GP surgeries offered evening and weekend appointments, delivering over four million additional appointments every year.
Cameron also relaxed the GP contract, meaning that practices only had to open for an extra 30 minutes, and removed the financial incentives for GPs to improve access to appointments.
Last year Dr Maureen Baker, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:
“General practice as we know it is now under severe threat of extinction. It is imploding faster than people realise and patients are already bearing the brunt of the problem.”
In the latest GP-Patient Survey, 10.91 per cent of people say they were unable to get an appointment with a GP the last time they tried –that’s up from 9.62 per cent in 2012. If we continue on this trend, we could reach a situation by 2020 where 14.78 per cent of people – 8.4 million – will be unable to get an appointment when they need one.
In the latest survey 14.42 per cent of people say they waited a week or more for a GP appointment the last time they tried, up from 11.98 per cent in 2012. On this trend 21.74 per cent of people – 12.3 million – will wait a week or more by 2020.
Added together, this means that if we continue on this trend, by 2020 20.7 million people will be waiting more than a week to see a GP – or won’t be able to see one at all.
Compounding the problem is the fact that even the government’s own GP Taskforce admit that there is a GP workforce crisis. Whilst the number of GPs per 100,000 head of population across England increased from 54 in 1995 to 62 in 2009, it has now declined to 59.5
House of Commons data also shows that over this parliament, 505 fewer GPs have been trained than under the last Labour government, and that since 2009 the number of GPs applying to work abroad has almost doubled.
With decreasing numbers of GPs and reduced opening hours the hallmarks of the coalition government, we must think twice before accepting Cameron’s pledges.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.