Will Capping Patient Lists Benefit GPs?

At this year’s England LMCs conference, it was suggested that GP patients lists are capped at 1,500 in order to bring workloads in line with other areas of general practice. It is hoped that capping patient lists would make GP surgeries a safer place for both doctors and patients, ensuring that doctors can provide a better service by reducing the number of ‘burnt out’ doctors. So could capping patient lists benefit GPs?

Following a global trend

The idea of capping patient lists is nothing new. The Royal College of General Practitioners has suggested the idea of patient list capping, to work in a similar way to those seen in other countries like Australia, where the list is capped at 1,000.

It’s not just Australia that’s capping patient lists. Closer to home, many countries in Europe have capped patient lists. Norwegian surgeries have a maximum of 1,100 patients, while GP practices in Italy who have more than 1,000 patients are advised to hire additional GPs or divert patients elsewhere. A survey conducted by the European Union of GPs, suggested that a safe patient list would be around 1,250 – which would still be less than the current suggestion in the UK.

Will capping patient lists provide safer care?

Capping patient lists could be a suitable solution to GPs looking to provide safer care. Currently, many GPs feel that they are no longer able to provide the necessary levels of care. This is leading to a surge in GP mental health concerns. Meanwhile, more junior doctors are opting to work part-time or reduced hours, while many trainee doctors have also stated that they won’t be looking to work full-time once they qualify. Other alternatives to typical working patterns include early retirement, or seeking work abroad in countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

There are some financial concerns surrounding capped patient lists. Experts argue that capping lists would be a safety measure, and therefore shouldn’t affect funding or earnings.

Providing safer care

Many will agree that current working practices are not suitable for current GPs. Working longer hours and taking on additional responsibilities means that GPs face a greater risk of litigation, as well as suffering from stress and other work-related mental health issues that can affect their ability to do a good job.

According to the latest Commonwealth Fund report, the UK is performing well when it comes to process scores in areas like access to services. However, in health outcomes, the figures are very different, with child mortality rising and life expectancy falling at a rate that puts the UK in 10th out of 11th place, just ahead of the US. There is argument to suggest that these improved processes and longer working hours to provide greater flexibility to patients could be pointless if it isn’t going to have a positive effect on health outcomes.

Capping patient lists could provide a solution for GPs. Another potential solution may be through exploring the switch to an hours-based system to ease workloads and reduce working days to 10 hours a day.

These are just some of the many solutions available to help GPs cope with the demands of their jobs. If you’d like to find out more about working as an out of hours GP for East Berkshire Primary Care, take a look at our jobs page for more information.