By Jodie Nesling
Patient satisfaction in Thanet is among the worst in the country, according to new figures.
Industry news site GPonline analysed the results of questionnaires published by the government. Nationally, 83% of patients say their services were very or fairly good – compared with 79% of patients in under-doctored areas.
But in Thanet the figure is 74.2% as GP shortages and an ageing population contribute to tough working conditions for doctors.
The isle has the country’s second highest number of patients aged over 75 years old per full-time employed GP, as well as the fifth highest overall number of patients.
The combination of high overall numbers of patients per GP and high numbers of patients aged over 75 years old suggests that doctors working in primary care in these areas face some of the toughest working environments in the country.
At a time when the number of patients registered with practices in England has risen by more than 700,000 over the past year and fully-qualified GP numbers fell by more than 400 in the year to March 2019,
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.”
Plans to fund three new ‘surgery hubs’ in Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs’ are underway with Bethesda Medical Practice in Cliftonville awarded £2.5m to expand the existing surgery.