A shortage of doctors and surging demand is putting patient safety at risk, a senior doctor has warned.
According to Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), growing pressures on general practice means many doctors are finding it “challenging to maintain a safe service”.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “That’s a consequence of increased consultations, increased complexity of consultations, the vaccination programme and a larger population. All of that [means] a massive increase in need and demand. And there hasn’t been a commensurate increase in supply - particularly in staff.”
Professor Marshall said the number of GPs in work has fallen by 4.5% since 2015, as more young doctors are leaving the profession quickly and many older doctors are retiring early.
This, he said, means it is “increasingly hard” for GPs to guarantee safe care to their patients, and many fear making serious mistakes."
"The chances of making a mistake in a diagnosis or a mistake in a referral decision or a mistake in prescribing are all greater when you’re under stress,” Professor Marshall commented. And if you’re working 11 to 12 hour days, seeing 50, 60 patients … the chances of you making a mistake, we all know, are higher."
Professor Martin Marshall
Chair of the Royal College of GPs
This is bound to further impact patient safety. Whilst there has to be an acknowledgement of the additional pressures that GPs have faced because of the pandemic, it’s really important that standards of care are maintained to avoid patients suffering avoidable harm.
The shortage of GPs is of great concern in terms of patient safety and of even more concern is the fact that there may be further shortages of GPs in the future.
Worryingly, nearly two-thirds of GPs polled by the RCGP expect the situation to get worse over the next five years.
The survey also showed that more than one in three GPs expect to leave within five years, with many citing stress and burnout as a reason. This means the number of GPs could fall by 15,000 by 2026.
Professor Marshall urged the government to step up investment in general practice, arguing the service cannot be “allowed to collapse”.
He added that if this happens, the rest of the NHS “won’t be far behind it and the consequences will be very serious indeed”.
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