GPs – The Face Of The NHS?

There’s no doubt that GPs, as well as many others practitioners working in the NHS, are currently facing very challenging working conditions. Funding crises, staff shortages and mounting workloads mean that frontline staff are facing difficulties that are unprecedented in the history of the NHS. Indeed, many medical students are opting out of becoming GPs altogether, citing lower job satisfaction and less workplace security as some of their chief concerns. Equally, many physicians who have been working for the health service for a number of years are deciding to leave the profession or seeking early retirement.

But despite these challenges, it’s important that we remind ourselves that GPs remain an absolutely crucial part of our health system and play a vitally important role in delivering excellent patient care. Below, we lay out some of the reasons why GPs can still be considered the face of the NHS, and offer some avenues for ameliorating the pressures of the job.

GPs As The Face Of The NHS

The role of GPs as ‘gatekeepers’ between patients and other health services has been a cornerstone of the NHS since its founding in the 1940s and remains so to this day. GPs’ frontline position means that they interact with large numbers of patients every day. They are also able to build up relationships of trust with their patients, potentially over many years or even decades, giving them a unique overview of their patients’ history and unique set of needs.

General practices across the UK are often the first port of call for patients with minor ailments, and the services offered by surgeries remain crucial. There are more than 5 million consultations at GP practices each week, according to NHS England. Not only are GPs the first members of the health service that patients come into contact with, but they have an important role in signposting patients to other services. Using the information given to them by patients, they are able to point them in the right direction, thus avoiding unnecessary strain affecting other parts of the NHS – emergency services in particular.

The Challenges Facing GPs

A GP’s role as the face of the NHS and gatekeeper is coming under increasing pressure, however. Chronic staff shortages at many surgeries mean that it is now much more difficult for many patients to get a referral at their local practice, which is leading to an increase in attendances at A&E for minor concerns.

In addition, due to GPs having a very high level of contact with patients, they are more likely to have a complaint made against them by a member of the public. In fact, 42% of complaints submitted against the NHS between 2012 and 2016 were made against GPs, a figure which is much higher than the rate of complaints made against other health practitioners.

Causes for Optimism

Despite the significant challenges that GPs and other frontline staff have to face on a daily basis, there is some cause for optimism. In particular, the challenges are being recognised on a policy level, with high levels of funding being pledged to support GP services over the coming years. By 2021, an extra £2.4 billion will go towards funding GP practices as part of the GP Forward View programme being rolled out by the NHS. Another component of this programme is that there will be an additional 10,000 new staff working across practices by that year – 5000 more doctors, plus 5000 more pharmacists, nurses and support staff.

The other good news is that, in recognition of the high levels of stress that GPs face, other ways of working are now open including out of hours work which provides improved levels of wellbeing for GPs. Here at EBPCOOH, we regularly recruit for out of hours GP positions and offer greater levels of flexibility to ensure a healthy work-life balance. If you’d like to find out more, you can take a look at our current positions here.