An estimated 800,000 patients in Wales will find it difficult to secure a convenient appointment with their local GP by 2017 because surgeries are buckling under the strain of rising workloads and falling resources, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has warned.
According to new research published by the RCGP, more than 650,000 people found it difficult to get a GP appointment last year and it is estimated that this number could rise to 800,000 by 2017.
The RCGP says the new figures confirm the dire impact of the falling level of investment in general practice, with family doctors and practice nurses now conducting 90% of patient contacts for just 7.77% of the NHS budget in Wales – down from 8.76% in 2005/06.
Surgeries are struggling to meet rising demand for appointments due to a deficit in the number of GPs.
RCGP Wales Chair Paul Myres, said: “Patients shouldn’t face a battle to get an appointment at their local GP surgery, and practices are trying their utmost to cope with the demand.
“But GPs across Wales are telling us they don’t have the resources to cope with the increasing number of older people who need complex care, whilst also meeting the needs of families and people of working age.
“In North Wales- where both retention and recruitment are major issues- we face serious problems. 23% of our GPs (in Wales) are over 55 years old. In Cwm Taf it is as high as 31%. When these doctors retire we have no-one to replace them. Who is going to care for our population?
“GPs are dealing with this issue every day, and we have to listen when so many are telling us that we have reached crisis point. Many GPs are choosing early retirement due to the pressures and lack of resources, many are choosing to work in other countries.
“The profession has been brought to its knees both by a chronic slump in investment and the fact that there are now simply not enough family doctors to go around. If the Government really wants to give general practice the tools to provide high-quality care they must increase funding for the sector to 11% of the NHS budget by 2017 and take radical steps to recruit more family doctors and practice nurses.”
In response to the funding crisis in general practice, the RCGP and the National Association for Patient Participation (N.A.P.P.) have launched a campaign called Put patients first: Back general practice, which is calling on the Government and decision makers to ensure that 11% of the NHS budget is invested in general practice by 2017.