General practice in Cornwall is on the brink of a crisis.
That’s the warning from Kernow Local Medical Committee (LMC) which represents the profession.
The LMC says local GP surgeries have been overwhelmed by issues such as increased workload – including delivering the majority of the Covid-19 vaccination programme on top of the day job.
Exceptionally long waits for ambulance transfers by South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWAST) from community settings to hospitals mean GPs are also having to manage acutely unwell patients in need of hospital care for longer.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust (RCHT) and University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) are also struggling with outpatient capacity issues, leaving longer waiting times for patients to be seen or reviewed, leading to GPs spending more time and appointments fielding patient enquiries.
These issues are compounded by longstanding GP and practice nurse shortages after years of under-resourcing nationally.
Despite grappling with the challenges faced, local general practice remains open and has been throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to its clinicians and staff.
National figures confirm general practice is offering more appointments than ever. Across Cornwall in July, GPs provided 326,570 appointments and 59% of patients were seen face to face in GP surgeries.
But fears are growing that later in the year many local GP surgeries won’t have the resources or resilience to deal with the existing challenges, plus additional pressures like a huge increase in Covid-19 numbers, a significant rise in respiratory virus cases and a predicted hike in flu cases of at least 50%.
Dr Nick Rogers, the LMC’s new Chair, said: “The LMC is supporting increasing numbers of GP practices and GPs across Cornwall with issues like resilience, workforce and workload.
“The LMC is calling for urgent support from our local health system partners to help manage demand, stabilise the workforce and release capacity for the emerging work associated with Covid-19 and flu and to find ways to plan ahead for crisis points.”
Dr Rogers, also a GP Partner at Falmouth Health Centre, added: “This is a very serious situation – but I would like to reassure patients that general practice in Cornwall is open, is seeing patients face to face and has been throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and will continue to do so.
“We are working as hard, fast and safely as possible to deliver the best outcomes for our patients, set against the challenges faced.”
Despite the overwhelming pressure on local GP practices, results from the recent national 2021 GP Patient Survey show:
The LMC would like to reassure the public that:
Patients are also asked to help their GP practice deliver effective, safe and timely care by:
Nationally, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has warned an emergency rescue package is needed for general practice if patients are to receive the care they need once the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
The RCGP has issued a report, General Practice in Crisis: An Action Plan for Recovery, with priority actions for the Government to take to improve care for patients in general practice – including recruiting thousands of additional GPs and practice staff.