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Funding black hole set to worsen GP waiting times this winter, College warns

New figures point to £10.2bn ‘shortfall’ for general practice over past 8 years

Caroline White

Monday, 25 November 2013

Patients might find themselves having to wait longer to see their family doctors this winter, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has warned, following the emergence of new figures indicating a £10 billion “shortfall” in general practice funding in Britain over the past eight years.

New calculations by College show that funding has drifted away from primary care towards hospitals over the last eight years, as a result of which general practice now receives £2.4bn less each year than if funding had kept pace with investment in secondary care services.

Between 2005-06 and 2011-12—the latest year for which figures are available— the overall British NHS budget grew by 18% in real terms, but  funding for general practice fell by 8.3% in real terms, despite an increase in demand and spiralling health costs, says the College.

The British population has grown by 2.6m, and an ageing population means that many more people have serious, long-term conditions, while the average number of consultations requested by each patient has risen.

The new research shows that the failure to fund general practice to keep pace with investment in hospitals has created a funding black hole to the tune of £9bn in England, £925m in Scotland, and £250m in Wales.

Previous research by the College shows that funding for general practice in England had declined in real terms by £400m over the three years up to and including 2012-13.

In 2005-06, 10.7% (£9.5bn) of the British NHS budget was spent on general practice, when the total NHS budget stood at £88.6bn, in 2012 money. By 2011-12, this figure had declined by over two percentage points to 8.4% (£8.8bn), when the total NHS budget stood at £104bn, in 2012 money.

An opinion poll, conducted on behalf of the RCGP recently, showed that 71% of GPs expect waiting times to worsen over the next two years due to the decrease in funding.

The funding issue has prompted the RCGP and the National Association for Patient Participation (NAPP) to kickstart a major campaign called Put patients first: Back general practice, which is calling for 11% of the overall NHS budget to be given to general practice by 2017—equivalent to one percentage point of the NHS budget each year.

GPs say this increase would allow them to shorten waiting times for appointments, as well as offer more flexible opening hours and better continuity of care.

Newly appointed RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “The drift of funding away from general practice to secondary care is a deep-seated and long-term trend which is starving general practice of the money it needs to deliver high levels of patient care.”

She said that most GPs believe that waiting times for appointments will inevitably increase over the next two years, as a result, with winter pressures putting extra strain on overstretched services.

“This is bad news for patients and bad news for the whole of the NHS. If waiting times become longer, this will make it more difficult for GPs to ensure that problems are caught early, and risks intensifying pressure on already overstretched A&Es,” she warned.

“GPs want to offer their patients faster and more convenient access but are being held back from doing so by a chronic lack of resources. The government must take urgent action to pump more resources into general practice so that family doctors can treat patients in the community, thereby taking the pressure off hospitals," she urged.

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