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Press releases

Doctors Warn NHS Is A "Sinking Ship" Without Urgent Action To Stabilise GP Services

The NHS will be left a "sinking ship" GPs have warned, if ministers do not take urgent action (Alamy)

3 min read

The NHS will become a “sinking ship” without “urgent action” to stabilise primary care and GP services, doctors have warned new Therese Coffey.

In a letter to the new health secretary, a group of GPs, convened by the Doctor’s Association UK, say they are in a “downward spiral” where they can “no longer meet the unrealistic demands of the job,” with medics likely to cut their hours or quit if nothing is done. 

Coffey is expected to make a statement on the NHS on Thursday, the first day of a full Parliamentary sitting since the break following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. 

When she started in the job earlier this month, Coffey promised to focus on "ABCD - ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists". 

Her in-tray was full when she arrived, with a health service in crisis amid soaring ambulance waiting times, a waiting list backlog, and strikes potentially on the horizon. 

GPs have now asked for clinical and funding interventions such as an overhaul of the way practices are paid, allowing doctors to decide where best to spend and recruit more staff based on the needs of their patients, and giving pharmacists more powers to make “appropriate substitutes” if a certain medication is unavailable to help doctors with their day to day work.

Doctors are also ask for investment in new IT systems as current software is “often unreliable” and new buildings to be commissioned as current premises are often “cramped, old and are not energy efficient”. 

“This job is making us ill,” the letter reads 

“We’ve entered a downward spiral whereby we can no longer meet the unrealistic demands placed upon us, and the descent down this spiral is accelerating as more find themselves having to leave the profession to preserve what remains of their health.

“Training scheme recruitment is high, yet GP retention is plummeting. Ideally, most GPs want to work for a free NHS that serves the whole population. However, for many, a 40-year career in general practice is neither healthy, nor sustainable.”

The letter continues: “Without your urgent action to stabilise primary care, the NHS will become a sinking ship. GPs will cut their hours, quit the NHS or quit the country.  

“This is happening already.”

Dr Elizabeth Toberty, who is on the GP committee at DAUK and a doctor in Newcastle told PoliticsHome: “There needs to be more recognition of the actual work pressures that we are under. 

“Because if you look at the doctor to patient ratios they are on the the rise, the number of patients are on the rise, and now we actually have a reducing number every year of full-time equivalent GPs.

“The pressures currently on general practice mean that people are looking for a way out. They retire, reduce their hours, work privately, go abroad.

“If I was Therese Coffey these are the last things I would want right now.” 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Health and Social Care Secretary has set out her four priorities of A, B, C, D – including increasing the number of doctors and dentists – and we made £520 million available to improve access and expand capacity among GPs during the pandemic.

“There are nearly 1,500 more full time equivalent doctors working in general practice now than in 2019, and we are spending £1.5 billion to create 50 million more appointments by 2024 – alongside making changes to reduce the workload of GPs and free up appointments.”

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