North Devon GP warns service is ‘at tipping point’

Dr Bruce Hughes of the Devon Local Medical Committee says the situation facing GPs is likely to get worse.
Dr Bruce Hughes of the Devon Local Medical Committee says the situation facing GPs is likely to get worse.

Dr Bruce Hughes was speaking following an Exeter University survey that found two in five South West GPs planned to quit in the next five years

A North Devon doctor has said local GPs are at ‘tipping point’ with heavy workloads and increasing demands.

Dr Bruce Hughes, chairman of Devon Local Medical Committee, was reacting to an Exeter University survey that claimed two in five South West GPs were set to quit in the next five years.

The survey of more than 2,000 GPs across the region also found seven out of 10 GPs intend to change their working patterns in a way that would mean less contact with patients.

Dr Hughes, who is a partner at Fremington Medical Centre, said it showed the challenges grassroots practices faced every day as they tried to provide high quality patient care.

He said: “Like elsewhere in the country, local GPs are grappling with heavy workloads which have already reached a tipping point.

“There simply aren’t enough GPs to deal with the anticipated further rising demand due to a lack of entrants into the profession, retirements, those choosing to leave through burnout or disillusionment, or who have reduced their hours or moved abroad for a better work-life balance.”

And he warned the current health reviews could have serious consequences. He said: “The situation is likely to get worse as many GPs may become overwhelmed due to the anticipated increase in demand as a knock-on effect of community hospital bed closures earmarked in Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).

“These plans currently lack robust medical cover arrangements and as such in my opinion are not currently credible. Our problems may be exacerbated further by the recent national announcement to commit more GPs to work in A and Es.

“The profession can no longer function on the dedication and goodwill of GPs who are already running on empty and who year after year suffer further setbacks with respect to increasing demand and bureaucracy and reductions in workforce and available resources.

“Nationally, swift and decisive action is needed to release significant resources, bolster a diminishing workforce and remove bureaucracy.

“Locally, STP leaders need to engage more closely with LMCs, recognise that we are the statutory representatives of general practice, and listen and act on our concerns and ideas before plans are implemented.”

‘Puzzling figures’

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones said GPs were ‘the backbone of the NHS’ and did fantastic work. He added: “That’s why the headline figures from this survey are certainly worrying, especially the concerns over the number of doctors.

“However the findings are a bit puzzling because according to the most recent official figures, the number of GPs has actually increased by nearly 6,000 in 10 years. That doesn’t seem to suggest there’s a recruitment crisis, so I’d want to look further at what’s behind this survey.

“Of course nobody would deny that GPs work under a great deal of pressure, and we must ensure they can continue to provide the best possible care to patients.

“That’s why I’d be very happy to meet the Devon Local Medical Committee to discuss their concerns, and then to raise them with NHS England and ministers.”


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