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College uncovers £400m ‘black hole’ in GP funding

Three years of ‘swingeing’ cuts have led to looming catastrophe in patient care

Louise Prime

Thursday, 03 October 2013

GPs are facing a £400m “black hole” because of the past three years’ “swingeing” cuts in funding, the Royal College of General Practitioners revealed this morning. College chair Dr Clare Gerada warned that patient services are already being cut back as a result, and the wait for an appointment is likely to lengthen in the next two years.

Dr Gerada told GPs at the RCGP’s annual national conference that spending on general practice patients has dropped by 7% in real terms since 2010, creating a £400m shortfall. She said the College had analysed figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre and found that real terms investment in general practice had dropped from £8865m in 2009/10 to £8459m in 2012/13.

She pointed out the huge imbalance in funding between general practice and the rest of the NHS – although 90% of patient contacts occur in general practice, it accounts for just 9% of the NHS budget. The College warned that this is already having a “disastrous effect” on patient care and insisted that the Government must make “major investment in general practice in order to protect patient services and safety”.

Dr Gerada said: “General practice is the most cost-effective and efficient arm of the health service – GPs keep the rest of the NHS stable and secure. Once general practice starts to crumble, the entire NHS will follow with disastrous consequences for our patients.

“In August this year, the Government announced an additional £500m over the next two years for A&E departments. What we need is our fair share of funding – at least 10% of the entire NHS budget and at least 10,000 more GPs – so that GPs can provide more services for patients in their communities.”

A poll conducted for the RCGP earlier this year revealed that four out of five (80%) GPs already felt less able to provide high quality patient care because of lack of resources; nearly half (47%) had already cut back on the range of services they provided for patients; and 70% expected that within the next two years patients will have to wait longer for an appointment with a GP.

Dr Gerada said: “We will soon have a catastrophe on our hands if urgent action is not taken to reverse the decline in funding for general practice and provide GPs with an appropriate amount to spend on each patient every year.

“For years politicians, health professionals and patients alike have been saying that we must shift the centre of gravity of the health service away from hospitals, with more care delivered to patients closer to home, and a greater focus on prevention. But these figures show that we are in fact moving in the opposite direction.

“GPs are keen to do more for their patients but we are heaving under the pressure of ever increasing workloads and diminishing resources, including a chronic shortfall of GPs. Some of us are routinely working 11 hour days with up to 60 patient contacts in a single day and this is not safe or sustainable, for patients or GPs ... We must have an emergency package of additional investment for general practice to protect GP services and protect our patients from cuts to their care.”

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