Saturday, 31 July 2021

Shortage of doctors is major problem

MORE GPs have complained about the shortage of doctors and cuts in funding.

MORE GPs have complained about the shortage of doctors and cuts in funding.

They say it’s a national problem that is threatening to cause a crisis in the primary care service.

Last week, the Henley Standard reported how doctors at the Hart Surgery in Henley had written to patients to apologise for delays in making appointments, saying they were overstretched.

Dr Philip Unwin and his colleagues blamed an increasing workload, a staff shortage and a cut in Government funding and urged patients to complain to Henley MP John Howell.

Now they have been supported by the town’s other medical practice.

Dr Chris Langley, senior partner at the Bell Surgery, said GPs’ workloads had increased “massively” but there hadn’t been a similar increase in funding.

He said the Government paid on average £136 per patient per year but this was less than the cost of one hospital outpatient appointment.

“The service that primary care is providing I think is excellent given the little funding it’s getting relative to the hospitals and some of the A&E departments,” said Dr Langley.

“The workload has gone up hugely and we’re forever trying to meet the demand.”

Dr Langley said the Bell Surgery had managed to recruit three new doctors after the retirement of two of its GPs and another leaving due to ill health.

The surgery also introduced a new appointment system last month to try and provide more bookable appointments. He said: “I don’t think the Hart Surgery is unusual in the problems it’s facing. All surgeries are facing the same increase in demand and the same recruitment problems.

“I don’t think it has got to the point that it’s feeling unsafe, definitely not in Henley. We will work extra when needed and we would always look out for each other — the Bell and the Hart.”

Dr Andrew Burnett, senior partner at the Sonning Common Health Centre, said: “I’m obviously sympathetic to my colleagues at the Hart Surgery who are working really hard to try to provide a service. When it’s a small organisation and one or two are off sick it can have a devastating effect.

“There’s a national shortage of GPs. At the same time the GP workload is going up. I think it’s not unreasonable to say we’re facing a crisis. A study of 12 practices in Oxfordshire, including Sonning Common, found workloads were going up by four per cent every year.”

Dr Burnett said a one per cent increase in funding from the Government was being outstripped by extra costs.

The average consultation rate had risen from 4.2 to 8.3 consultations per year per patient over the last 20 years.

“£136 a year is what your GP is being paid to look after you — it’s a fantastic bargain,” he said.

Mr Howell said he would try to set up a meeting for Dr Unwin and his colleagues with Alistair Burt, minister for community and social care.

“Of course I sympathise,” he said. “We’re funding the NHS to the tune of over £10billion during this Parliament.”

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