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GP surgeries in parts of Kent have just one doctor looking after thousands of patients

By Luke May

A KM Group analysis of how many patients are being looked after by each doctor has shown huge variations between practices.

The issue hit the headlines this week with figures published by the BBC showing nearby Swale has one of the worst doctor-patient ratios in England, with an average of 3,300 people per GP.

But the issue is one the KM has regularly explored, going back to 2015.

Bosses behind west Kent's doctors surgeries say they're doing everything they can to recruit doctors into local practices as demand continues to rise
Bosses behind west Kent's doctors surgeries say they're doing everything they can to recruit doctors into local practices as demand continues to rise

And we can also reveal just how difficult it is for the public to find accurate figures on their own local surgery with different branches of the NHS updating different versions of its websites.

Our latest analysis shows patients at Northumberland Court, in Shepway, face the greatest challenge seeing a GP with one medic for every 4,196 people registered.

In further data obtained from NHS Digital there are 11,541 patients currently registered at Albion Place Medical Practice, but the practice has just three doctors assigned to it.

This means for every doctor at the practice, there are 3,847 patients, according to the figures from September 2018.

The case remains true among some of the other practices in and around the County Town Brewer Street Surgery and The College Practice, which has surgeries in Barming and Maidstone, have more than 2,000 patients per doctor.

Dr Bob Bowes is chair of NHS West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group and a doctor at Kingswood Surgery in Tunbridge Wells, which has eight GPs and 10,358 patients on its list.

The doctor of 32 years said: “Recruitment remains a significant challenge in west Kent, which is similar to the national picture.

Patients outnumber doctors at most surgeries by more than 1000 to one (6736673)
Patients outnumber doctors at most surgeries by more than 1000 to one (6736673)

“Despite the challenges, we work extremely hard to raise the standards of GP services across west Kent, working closely with the Care Quality Commission and our own quality and primary care teams."

Safety at Albion Place Medical Practice was branded inadequate in a report published by the CQC last August.

The practice was told it required improvement overall.

Management at the surgery has since changed with no new inspection report published.

The College Practice and Brewer Street are both rated as good overall by the CQC.

Kent Messenger has been monitoring the pressure on our local surgeries since May 2015.

At that time Wallis Avenue Surgery, in Park Wood, had 3,534 people per GP.

That figure rose to 3,931 patients per GP in September last year.

West Kent CCG was unable to provide the Kent Messenger with its own figures on patient and doctor numbers, instead referring us to NHS Digital, an online arm of the health service.

"We know GPs are already stressed and burning out, in many cases leaving the profession earlier than they planned to, and a shortage of GPs is the main reason why patients are waiting too long for an appointment" - Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard

Figures found on this website, which are considered accurate, directly contradict data that is accessed far more easily via the NHS main website nhs.uk, formerly known as NHS Choices.

NHS.uk offers a full breakdown of surgeries in and around Kent, with information on each one’s opening times, whether its lists are open and the number of doctors and patients currently registered.

However, it appears some, if not most, of the data on nhs.uk is wrong or out of date.

Where we have suggested Albion Place Medical Practice has three doctors, the website states there is just one, while the number of patients is rated as 11,253, nearly 300 lower than NHS Digital figures.

Figures remain at odds for most practices. One case is Allington Clinic, which ceased to exist last year after merging with the College Practice.

It is listed as having 19,540 patients and no doctors.

Surgeries where one doctor has less than 1,000 patients to care for are scarce across, west Kent.

The only surgery with such a ratio within the Maidstone borough is Cobtree Medical Practice, where three doctors care for 2,554 patients, according to NHS Digital.

Dr Bob Bowes is the chairman of West Kent CCG
Dr Bob Bowes is the chairman of West Kent CCG

It reflects a ratio of one doctor for every 851 patients.

Further west in Tunbridge Wells, Lonsdale Medical Practice has seven doctors and 6,849 patients at a ratio of 1,978.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, has warned recruitment problems and a rise in workload risks a “perfect storm” for local health care providers.

She said: “Unfortunately, as this data shows, the GP workforce is not rising with demand - indeed, we have fewer full-time equivalent GPs delivering patient care than we had two years ago.

"As a result, each GP is responsible for more patients – and more elderly patients, who typically have greater and more complex health needs – every year.

“We know GPs are already stressed and burning out, in many cases leaving the profession earlier than they planned to, and a shortage of GPs is the main reason why patients are waiting too long for an appointment.”

Prof Stokes-Lampard said practitioners needed to see the full effects of the General Practice Forward View, a £2.4 billion a year government initiative started in 2016 to improve general practice support by 2020/21 Dr Bowes added: “We are actively engaged with the GP Forward View that has a number of resilience and workforce initiatives in place.

“These include clinical pharmacists in general practice, cluster-based paramedics, cluster-based advanced nurse practitioners and practice-based physiotherapist to help modernise the wider general practice.”

This drive towards developing the wider general practice clinical team, addresses some of the GP workforce challenges and helps modernise general practice in primary care to meet the changing needs of the population.”

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