GPs in the UK are seeing up to 60 patients a day, double the number they consider safe, as services struggle with staff shortages and a rising demand for care. The Guardian reports that the findings of a survey of family doctors prompted a warning that some are becoming ill because they have to put in such long hours. GPs across the UK work an average 11-hour day, according to research by the medical website Pulse. In that time, they typically see patients for eight hours and spend the other three on administrative tasks such as checking test results and reading letters sent by hospitals.
On average, GPs are in touch with 41 patients a day either in their surgery, on a home visit, or by telephone or email. However, family doctors say they should deal with no more than 30 patients a day, in order to ensure proper care is given. One in 10 GPs are in touch with 60 or more patients – double the safe limit – the survey found.
Dr Matt Mayer, a former lead on workforce issues for the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said in the report: “The results of this survey are concerning and confirm GPs are working far beyond their capacity. GPs currently are making themselves ill in this job, and it isn’t sustainable.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “In my own practice recently, I had a 12-hour day and 100 patient contacts.”
The report says the profession is in the midst of a workforce crisis, with too few GPs to meet the increasing need for medical attention created by an ageing and growing population, mental ill-health and lifestyle-related conditions. Some family doctors are retiring early due to stress and burnout, while others have reduced their hours. And although the number of trainee GPs in England is at an all-time high, many give up before their training ends.
The situation has resulted in patients having to wait longer – up to three weeks – for a consultation.
The report says one GP is quoted as saying: “By lunchtime, I felt on the edge and risking missing urgent tasks and contacts, thus affecting patient safety. I did miss the fact that a patient I had tried to contact earlier in the day had called back, so I didn’t call her back before the surgery closed.”
GPs also report the intensity of their work adds to the pressures on them, saying 29% of patient contacts are “very complex”.
Dr Farah Jameel, the BMA’s lead on GP workload, said in the report that the findings were “striking but sadly not altogether surprising”, and reflected the “intense pressure GPs are under every day”.
In 2015, the government pledged to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020. But the workforce has shrunk further since then.
NHS England plans to tackle the problem by increasing the overall number of health professionals in GP surgeries by 20,000, including physiotherapists, pharmacists and mental health therapists. A spokesperson said it would invest an extra £4.5bn in community-based care by 2023-24, and pointed out 90% of salaried GPs work part-time.