Is the Drop in GP Numbers Linked to Shorter Life Expectancy?
Research has found that residents in areas with more GPs have a longer life expectancy. The impact of having a higher number of primary care doctors was greater than a corresponding increase in the numbers of hospital specialists such as cardiologists. While this research was based on U.S. data, it is a trend being replicated in the UK.
A drop in GP numbers increases pressure on the NHS
These findings show how vital it is to build a strong network of GPs and how serious the implications a drop in GP numbers could be. Sadly, this is a real concern. The ratio of GPs per 10,000 people fell from 6.56 in 2007 to 6.19 in 2017, bringing the ratio to its lowest since 2004. This shift has left patients with long waits for an appointment.
The NHS celebrated its 70th birthday in 2018, but it now needs to look at how to transform its services to stay fit for another 70 years. It faces massive pressures in trying to do so, including funding and an ageing population. It is estimated that, compared to 2018-19, there will be 5.9 million more people in the UK in 2033–34.
What’s more, the number of people aged 65 and over is growing three times faster than the number aged under 65. This means that the NHS is faced with greater and more complex health needs. The drop in GP numbers only increases the pressure further.
The NHS has a plan
Following on from the NHS Five Year Forward View, positive changes are starting to take effect. In launching the NHS Long Term Plan earlier this year, Theresa May committed to moving healthcare away from hospitals and into the community. This will help to improve life expectancy and tackle some of the most serious conditions which are resulting, in part, from lifestyle changes.
One of the reforms to come from the plan is a ring-fenced local investment in primary medical and community services. This is forecast to become worth at least an extra £4.5 billion a year by 2023/24. These funds are to be used to extend the range of local services to create an integrated team of GPs, community health and social care staff.
Changes to health care in the community
One of the areas in which change is being seen is in the provision of alternatives to the face-to-face GP appointment. As part of the long term plan, every patient will receive access to digital GP consultations, be that over the phone or online. This will conserve GP time and provide a more comfortable and convenient option for patients with certain medical conditions.
The out-of-hours service is increasing, with the government pledging that patients will be able to book routine appointments any day or evening by March 2020. The objective of this is to reduce pressure on hospital A&E and outpatient services. To date, the out-of-hours service has been a postcode lottery, with access options available to patients varying across the country. But with proper funding the range of services on offer should make hospital a less likely option, for some patients at least.
A further implication of an ageing population is an increased need for community health teams to provide support to people in their own homes and care homes as an alternative to hospitalisation. This is another service that will benefit from the Long Term Plan and funding.
What can you do?
One of the issues standing in the way of these actions taking effect is the drop in GP numbers. GPs are in high demand and in order to fulfil the commitments to increased primary and community care, more GPs need to be recruited. Particularly those dedicated to out-of-hours care. Now is a great time for medical practitioners to consider working in a different way. Take a look at our jobs page for information on opportunities available at East Berkshire Primary Care Out of Hours Services.