Although general practice is the cornerstone of the NHS, dealing with 90% of patient contacts in our health system, the share of funding it receives for patient care has fallen by more than a fifth – from 10.95% of NHS funding in 2005/06 down to an historic low of 8.5% in 2011/12.
This lack of funding has resulted in more than 26m people in England having to wait a week or more to see or speak to their GP last year. Without urgent action, the situation is likely to worsen further, with 71% of GPs predicting that waiting times will get even longer if nothing is done to reverse the situation.
Patients deserve much better than this. A shift of about 1% of NHS expenditure into general practice per year for three years will transform care for patients and benefit the NHS as a whole, alleviating pressure on our hospitals and providing cost effective care closer to home. Some of the outcomes we believe this extra investment would achieve are:
• Shorter waiting times for appointments and more flexible opening hours;
• Longer consultations and better continuity of care; and
• Improved care coordination and planning for the frail elderly and those with complex needs.
Although resources are squeezed across the NHS, there is a risk that if general practice is allowed to buckle under the pressure this will compromise care across the whole service. With both a baby boom and our ageing population increasingly in need of complex care in the community, I believe there is a strong case for investing in the generalist medical care that GPs and their teams provide close to patients’ homes.
You can find out more about the campaign led by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) and the National Association for Patient Participation (N.A.P.P.) at www.putpatientsfirst.rcgp.org.uk.