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NHS backlog impacting on patient care and GP workload - needs addressing urgently, says RCGP

RCGP responds to National Audit Office report on NHS backlogs and waiting times.

Responding to a report by the National Audit Office on NHS backlogs and waiting times in England:

Dr Gary Howsam, Vice Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The growing NHS backlog is impacting on the care patients are receiving, as well as increasing pressure on all parts of the health service, not least general practice. This report predicts things are likely to get worse before they get better – despite GPs, our teams and colleagues across the NHS working harder than ever - so alongside extra funding, we need to see carefully considered solutions to tackle the backlog and reduce waiting times for patients to get the care they need.

“It must be remembered that NHS pressures are not confined to secondary care and it’s crucial that any efforts to alleviate the backlog in hospitals also account for the increased pressure the backlog is placing on general practice. GPs and our teams make the vast majority of patient contacts in the NHS, and whilst patients are waiting for operations or specialist consultations, the responsibility for their care and management of their conditions usually falls back on GP teams.

“GPs take our responsibility to refer appropriately very seriously and we worked hard throughout the pandemic to continue to refer patients with possible symptoms of cancer in as timely a way as possible. There was a drop in urgent cancer referrals at the start of the pandemic, which evidence shows was mainly due to people following official guidance to stay at home, as well as concerns about catching Covid-19 and overburdening NHS services. Referral rates from March to the end of August this year exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

“General practice was under intense workload and workforce pressures before the pandemic but the crisis has only exacerbated the situation. The size of the qualified GP workforce fell by almost 6% between September 2015 and August 2021, while the number of patients has continued to grow - meaning that the ratio of patients to GPs has increased by more than 10%. Put simply, workload is escalating in general practice, whilst GP numbers are falling. “We urgently need the Government to make good on its promise of an additional 6,000 GPs and 26,000 other members of the practice team by 2024, and efforts must include robust plans to tackle workload and stop GPs burning out so they can stay in the profession longer, delivering patient care.”

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