Thanet has one of the worst GP to patient ratios in the country with more than 2,500 patients for one GP, new figures reveal.
In an analysis of doctor provision across the country The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) compared population data with GP workforce numbers from NHS Digital. It shows that, nationally, the ratio has fallen from 6.56 full-time equivalent GPs per 10,000 population in 2007 to 6.19 FTE GPs per 10,000 population in 2017. The ratio is the lowest it has been since 2004.
Across the isle there are 2,520 patients for every GP and although plans are being mooted for three new super GP surgeries in Margate, Westwood and Ramsgate, there still remains a huge shortage of family doctors in the area, which echoes the national trend.
Only Bradford, Horsham, and Swale have worse figures with the Kent district recording 3,342 patients for every GP.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Our patients are living longer – that’s one of the great wonders of modern medicine – but as they do, they are increasingly living with multiple, chronic conditions, which has a massive impact on workload in general practice, both in terms of volume and complexity.
“Unfortunately, as this data shows, the GP workforce is not rising with demand – indeed, we have fewer full-time equivalent GPs delivering patient care than we had two years ago. As a result, each GP is responsible for more patients – and more elderly patients, who typically have greater and more complex health needs – every year.
“This increasing pressure without the sufficient resources or an increased workforce of fully-qualified GPs to cope with it is untenable. The fact that GP workload is escalating and set to continue to do so – particularly with the drive to deliver more care out of hospitals stated clearly in the NHS long-term plan – whilst the GP workforce is still falling runs the risk of a perfect storm.
“We know that GPs are already stressed and burning out, in many cases leaving the profession earlier than they planned to, and a shortage of GPs is the main reason why patients are waiting too long for an appointment.”
In November residents at a public meeting in Ramsgate were told the shocking shortage of GPs, nurses, therapists and specialised medical staff is one of the driving forces behind proposals to change community health and hospital services in Thanet and across Kent and Medway.
Dr Jihad Malasi, chair of NHS Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which commissions health services, told the gathering: “Things have to change and it has to do with workforce ratios and the number of doctors we have. Even if money was available on tap we still would not have the workforce we need. That’s why we need to restructure.”
Dr Malasi said some GP practices were also unable to sustain themselves financially, with closures on the isle meaning surgeries had dropped from 17 to 13 in just 18 months.
He said: “Many of them have not been able to get the right staff and they have not been able to get locums. This is why we have to look very carefully at how we deliver things.
“Many GPs are burning out or are over a certain age. Demand on practices in phenomenal. We love our patients and love seeing them but when dealing with that level of demand it is difficult not to see people burning out.”
County councillor Karen Constantine has requested an urgent meeting with South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay to discuss the crisis. She said: “I ve spent many years involved in the NHS. Prior to becoming Ramsgate County Councillor I was Regional head for the Royal College of Midwives. I have seen first hand how the axing of nursing and midwifery bursaries has accelerated the NHS staffing shortages which are now in crisis.
Likewise, I have viewed with despair the desperate shortage of GPs which the Government has repeatedly failed to address.
“This study ranking Thanet amongst the worse places in England to get an appointment with a GP was predictable and preventable.
Thanet NHS services are in the grip of downward spiral. Including the anticipated and alarming loss of the Stroke unit at QEQM.
“I have written to our local MP three times seeking to meet with him. I’m dissatisfied not to even have received a reply. That meeting is now urgent. ”
In their 2017/18 annual report the CCG noted Primary Care infrastructure across the CCG could be destabilised to a critical point due to multiple GP and Practice Nurse vacancies. They say this is being tackled with “a number of workforce projects put in place to support practices.”
Last year the CCG was granted £2.5m towards the Bethesda’s expansion cost.