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GP services in Kent and Medway under pressure

By KentOnline reporter

Forty percent of GPs in Kent and Medway are planning to leave general practice in the next five years.

A survey of 250 surgeries in the area found half of respondents feel they are working in “inadequate premises”.

The study, carried out by the Kent Local Medical Committee (LMC), said the majority of GPs were planning to retire, but warned younger recruits were not replacing them in the numbers required.

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Doctors under pressure. Stock image
Doctors under pressure. Stock image

The survey also showed half of respondents already have a practice vacancy for a GP and 40% have yet to fill unoccupied positions for one or more nurses.

The “alarming” figures come amid an expected population increase of 5.4% in Kent and Medway by 2021, meaning GP services will come under more pressure.

It is also anticipated the number of people aged over 65 will rise by 25% during the same period.

Of the 343 GPs who responded to the survey, 32.94% worked in west Kent, 14.87% in Canterbury and nearby coastal areas, 11.95% in Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley, 9.91% in Medway, 4.66% in Swale, 12.24% along the south Kent coast, 8.16% in Thanet, and 5.25% in Ashford.

The LMC, which acts as a voice for GPs, said there was a mismatch between the reality of the situation and the government’s objectives to have an 8am to 8pm service.

“Seventy percent of respondents consider their current workload to be unmanageable and 90% consider this workload to have a negative impact on the quality of patient care.

“How can this be sustained over additional hours?

“Any proposed gains in appointments face being overwhelmed by the inevitable destruction of continuity of care.”

The LMC added government promises to increase GP numbers were not being met, according to latest figures for General Practice, which show a decrease in full time equivalent GP numbers of 0.3%.

It called for patients to campaign through their MP for increased funding to improve GP services and urge them to promote the development of a medical school in Kent to attract more young medical professionals to the area.

Dr Julian Spinks, a GP in Strood and vice chair of the Kent LMC, said: “I’m afraid I’m not surprised so many of my colleagues are thinking of leaving the profession.

“We have an ageing profession in Kent so there’s a fair number of those which are reaching retirement.

"The worst thing is it is starting to impact on safety and quality of care that we can provide for our patients" - Dr Julian Spinks

“But the big difference is while many of those might have stayed on a little bit beyond that now it is such a difficult environment to work in they’re thinking of leaving.

“We have a profession which struggles with inadequate premises, it cannot recruit new doctors to replace those that leave, and there is financial pressure which is pushing practices to the wall.”

Dr Spinks said extra funding was needed to improve GP surgeries and called for schemes to attract new doctors to train as GPs to prevent the situation from getting any worse.

“It’s never been an easy job being a GP, we’ve always worked long hours, but the demand is rising faster than the number of doctors,” he told kmfm.

Dr Spinks said a newly launched scheme to provide mental health care for under pressure GPs had already been “overwhelmed” by demand from doctors suffering anxiety and burn-out.

Stock pic
Stock pic

“Ultimately the worst thing is it is starting to impact on safety and quality of care that we can provide for our patients," he added.

A spokesman for NHS England South said: “We know GPs are under pressure across the country, seeing more patients with more complex conditions, with some GP practices also experiencing challenges recruiting and retaining doctors.

“Our national General Practice Forward View, developed alongside Health Education England and in discussion with the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) and other GP representatives, sets out a national plan to stabilise and transform general practice and to invest in new ways of providing primary care, in order to address the challenges facing GPs and to improve access to services for patients.

“This includes investing in GP premises and technology, as well as plans to increase the number of GPs and other health professionals working in GP practices, including pharmacists and mental health professionals, who can offer more specific services and free-up GPs to treat the most ill patients.”

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