The RCGP believes that if the Government were to clamp down on the bureaucratic burden that is currently imposed on GPs by half, it would give each family doctor over 200 additional hours per year to care for their patients.
If the additional time was used to cut waiting times, it would reduce the number of patients waiting to see their GP for more than one week by just under one third – reducing the number of occasions on which patients have to wait more than a week for an appointment from 62.4 m to 43.6 m each year.
The College says such a move would prevent general practice from going into meltdown over the next year – particularly during the winter – as the family doctor service struggles to cope with rocketing patient demand and an increasingly insufficient number of GPs.
The University of Manchester estimates that nearly a fifth (19%) of GPs’ time is now taken up with indirect administration such as referral letters and arranging hospital admissions.
At the same time, patient demand is rocketing and waiting times for a GP appointment are getting longer, with patients in some areas of the country now having to wait for up to a month to see their family doctor or practice nurse.
There is also a chronic shortage of GPs, with many family doctors approaching retirement age and not enough medical graduates choosing general practice as a career to replace them.
In its radical new ‘blueprint’ for general practice published today, the College is calling for a halt to non-urgent paper work and box-ticking so that GPs can direct their efforts where they are needed most – on treating patients and reducing waiting times for GP appointments.
As part of its proposals to cut red tape, it is urging the Care Quality Commission to carry out an immediate review of its inspection regime and regulatory practices to eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic burdens on GP practices.
The RCGP Blueprint for building the new deal for general practice in England sets out a package of measures that – if implemented by politicians – will enable GPs to continue to provide high quality care for patients.
The College says it is needed to translate the positive vision of a ‘new deal’ for general practice – set out by NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens in his Five Year Forward View – into reality for GPs delivering frontline patient care.
It outlines an immediate, emergency package of measures, as well as medium-to long-term plans, to secure essential improvements to general practice.
Building on its Put patients first: Back general practice campaign, the College sets out five actions that must be taken by the new Government to strengthen general practice for the future:
- Invest 11% of the NHS budget in general practice – including an emergency stabilisation fund to support practices most at risk of closure.
- Grow the GP workforce by 8,000 – including stepping up efforts to boost GP recruitment, retain the current workforce, and make it easier for GPs to return to practice.
- Give GPs time to focus on patient care – including a policy of testing every new NHS initiative against how it will impact on GPs’ time and workload capacity.
- Allow GPs time to innovate – including giving practices funding to pilot the employment of pharmacists within GP teams.
- Improve GP premises – including investing in new diagnostic technology and IT systems.
Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said:
“It makes no sense that at a time when patients are having to wait weeks to get a GP appointment , the burden of bureaucracy is taking us away from where we are needed most – caring for and treating our patients.
“GPs are under immense pressures because of rising workloads and constrained finances yet more and more of our working hours are being taken up with form-filling, ticking boxes and preparing for practice inspections.
“Our calculations demonstrate how by cutting red tape and unnecessary paperwork by a relatively small amount, we could free up thousands of doctors to see thousands more patients.
“GPs and their teams are now seeing 370m patients per year – 60m more than five years ago – but as patient demand has risen and patients’ needs have become more complex, the share of the NHS budget for general practice has fallen to an all-time low of just 8.4% of the total NHS budget in England.
“The immediate measures we’re calling for would enable the Government to shore up the service in the coming months, making sure in particular that general practice does not go into meltdown over the winter period.
“We know that when GPs and their teams are given the resources, time and space to do their jobs properly, we have a strong record of providing exceptional patient care that serves as the cornerstone of our NHS.
“Patients should be able to see a GP when they need to but still we estimate that on 67 million occasions this year, patients will have to wait more than a week to see their GP or practice nurse.
“We must have long-term funding for general practice and more GPs if we are to help ease pressure on our service and create new services to address the biggest challenges facing the NHS over the next few years, such as people living with multiple conditions.
“But in the shorter term, our patients could really benefit if family doctors were freed from non-urgent paperwork and unnecessary red tape so that we had more time to care.
“However, freeing up more GP time to enable us to provide frontline patient care is still not a substitute for having more GPs.
“We need the new Government to honour its promise of 5,000 additional GPs as a matter of urgency and deliver a new deal for general practice
“General practice is the cornerstone of a strong NHS but – with a growing and ageing population – the service we provide can only be sustained if we urgently move to ensure we have the right supply of family doctors in order to meet patient demand.
“We need the new Government to work with us to invest in general practice so that we can recruit, return and retain as many GPs as possible over this Parliament and give all our patients the care they need and deserve.”
RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7581
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659
Notes to editor
The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.