Chronic shortage of family doctors leaves NHS in crisis as some GPs are found to be responsible for 9,000 patients each
The NHS is facing a crisis as a chronic shortage of family doctors has left some overworked GPs responsible for a staggering 9,000 patients, according to official figures.
More than one million people were registered with a GP who served more than 3,000 patients, the figures show, which is nearly twice the 1,600 patients on an average list.
Now leading doctors have warned that the government”s planned reforms of the healthcare system, led by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, risk making the problem worse.
Overworked: Department of Health data shows that some family doctors must cover lists of a staggering 9,000 patients. (File photo)
Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, which represents the UK”s primary care trusts, told the Daily Telegraph it was a question of whether GPs were “able to cater as well for each patient with a list once they get much over 2,000 or 3,000.”
Shortages were already common in inner cities, he warned, but recruiting family doctors had become difficult even in affluent rural areas.
England has 25,000 family doctors, but the health service is facing a retirement crisis as one in eight GPs have signalled their intention to step down within two years.
A third of those said they were concerned about the effects of the government”s planned health service reforms, the Telegraph reported.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley”s reform proposals risk making the problem worse, some doctors say
Pay freezes, pension changes and and increasing work loads were also given as significant factors behind many doctors” decisions to leave NHS work.
Shortages have been exarcerbated by the restrictions which allow the NHS from employing doctors from overseas only if there are no suitable staff in the UK or European Union.
With most British medical graduates going into hospital medicine, it is feared that the immigration block will further restrict the numbers willing to go to work in deprived inner city areas.
These spaces were filled in the Sixties and Seventies by a large influx of doctors from the Indian subcontinent, but this group are now reaching retirement and not being replaced.
There are also concerns at the increasing numbers of female GPs, who are set to outnumber their male colleages by 2013.
Women doctors are more likely to work part time because of family commitments, possibly leading to further shortfalls in coverage.
The Centre for Workforce Intelligence has recommended that an extra 450 GP training posts must be filled each year over the next four years to maintain staffing levels.
But the number of doctors training as GPs actually fell this year, even though there are more places on offer.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Tory MP and former family doctor, told the Telegraph that medical students see hospital careers as more glamorous.
Drama: Medical students are increasingly choosing to work as hospital doctors, a profession they perceive as more glamorous. (File photo)
Doctors in the South East are having to treat the highest numbers of patients.
In primary care trusts such as Westminster, Brighton, Essex and Hounslow, west London, list sizes average over 2,000 per physician. GPs working in Devon, Bristol and Somerset, in comparison, have only around 1,300 patients on average.
Two GPs – one in Camden, north London, and one in Newham, east London – have 9,000 patients each, according to Department of Health data cited by the Telegraph.
Overall, one in five GPs has a list of more than 2,000 patients.
A spokesman for the Department of Health told the Telegraph there was “no evidence of difficulties accessing GPs”.
She added that the department planned to make training more flexible to attract more people to the job.