A leading GP has warned the family doctor service is ‘skating on thin ice’ this winter with some patients having to wait up to three weeks for an appointment.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners said hard-pressed GPs are ‘firefighting’ and are keeping the NHS afloat through ‘professionalism, resilience and goodwill’ in order to care for rising numbers of patients with illnesses brought on by the start of winter.
Patients in some parts of the UK are already having to wait up to three weeks to get a GP appointment for ‘non-urgent but worrying’ symptoms, leaving Professor Stokes-Lampard concerned about the unintended consequences of patients being unable to see a doctor promptly during the winter.
She said: “I am profoundly concerned about how general practice will cope over the winter.
“It’s not just A&E that sees peaks in workload. Every peak that you see in A&E is magnified in primary care just through the scale.
“As a service that is already skating on thin ice - a service that is stretched incredibly thinly - something has to give.
“If you’re dealing with people who are acutely sick on the day because people need help, then chronic disease management will disappear.
“Chronic disease management is the most phenomenal success story of the NHS - every day tens of thousands of people do not die who would have died 20 to 30 years ago because we are quietly saving them from having heart attacks, we are saving them from having strokes, we are saving them from complications of diabetes.
“My worry, the big fear, is that if GPs and other healthcare professionals working in the community rein back on preventative care and chronic disease management because we are too busy firefighting the urgent issues, the knock-on consequences could take years to manifest but they will be very serious.”
Professor Stokes-Lampard is now calling for GPs to get a bigger share of the NHS budget and for more GPs, as pledged by NHS England in its GP Forward View. She is also urging all the governments of the UK to support and strengthen general practice with more investment and resources.