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GP workload 'crisis' harming patients

Many of us are finding it difficult to get appointments to see a GP and the time a doctor can spend with a patient is ten minutes. GPs are struggling to provide the first line care their patients need. 

Now a new survey by the doctor's representative body, the British Medical Association concludes that overstretched GP practices do not have the time, support or information to explore new ways of collaborative working that could help practices deliver more effective, efficient care to their patients. .

The BMA’s Practice Collaboration Survey asked GPs their views on collaborative working including forming GP federations or networks where practices come together to pool resources and plan local services.

Results from the survey of 1,555 GPs include:

· 7 out of ten (69 per cent) cited workload pressures as a barrier to establishing a network or federation, while close to seven out of ten (66 per cent) also cited a lack of time.

· Almost half (45 per cent) were not clear or convinced about the benefits of forming a federation or network.

· Despite this lack of awareness, a third (35 per cent) are considering joining a network or federation, while one in five (22 per cent) are already part of this arrangement.

The responses underlined the need for more support for GPs wanting to explore these options. Two thirds (66 per cent) would find further guidance helpful, six out of ten (60 per cent) would be interested in legal advice and four out of ten would like HR (43 per cent) and project management support (44 per cent).

· Almost two in three (63 per cent) wish to develop a network in order to bid for enhanced primary care services, e.g. sexual health and contraceptive services, smoking cessation services, drug dependency services etc, commissioned by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

Speaking about the survey Dr Richard Vautrey, Deputy Chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, said:

“As highlighted in the BMA’s “Your GP Cares” campaign1, general practice is under massive strain from a combination of an unsustainable rising workload and fewer resources. In this environment, we need to look at new ways of working that might enable practices to get the most out of limited resources and work more effectively together.

“Forming federations or networks is certainly not the solution for every practice and there is no ‘one size fits all’ model that would be suitable for every area, but it could offer real opportunities for many practices in really difficult situations.

“It is deeply disappointing that the very problems that are spurring the need for more collaborative working are preventing GP practices from putting in place proper solutions. As this survey shows, many GP practices simply do not have the time because of workload pressures to even explore the benefits that working in a network might offer. There is an urgent need for resources to give GPs the breathing space to enable them to plan for the future.”

Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, GPC lead for Commissioning and Service Development, added:

“As the Local Medical Committee (LMC) Conference will hear later this week2, GPs are calling for much more support and information so they are enabled to make an informed decision about whether forming a federation or network is best for them.

“The BMA has already produced guidance for GPs with advice on how to take this process forward.3 As a result of the views expressed in this survey, we will be developing further resources to support GPs in the near future. But we do need the Government to listen to the BMA’s “Your GP Cares” campaign and start supporting general practice properly so that practices are able to innovate and provide services in the best possible way for their patients.

“Due to several years of funding cuts and spiralling workloads, practices are simply running to keep up with the extra demand. Many feel collaborative working would benefit their patients, but unless we see a substantial increase in core funding, practices will not have the capacity or support they need to develop services in the way many have said they want or need to.

“There is also clear evidence from this survey that there is a real need for high quality legal, HR and project management to enable GPs to explore collaborative ways of working, and practices should be properly supported with these resources.”

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