By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Worried councillors have called for radical changes to the way the general practice system is run in Kent as patients continue to face long waits for appointments.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) health scrutiny committee says more must be done to relieve the growing pressure on surgeries across the county. There are 1,180 Kent GPs, working in 192 GP surgeries, supported by just over 1,000 nurses, paramedics and pharmacists.
Kent NHS leaders say the pandemic has “intensified” workforce challenges as they find it harder to recruit new GPs, while staff are providing continuing help for patients on hospital waiting lists and aiding the coronavirus vaccine rollout.
However, county councillors have warned that patients are facing lengthy delays in speaking to their GP and having to travel long distances to surgeries.
Calls were made to find long-term solutions during a meeting, which involved a panel of NHS staff and more than 10 councillors, at County Hall, Maidstone on Thursday. (Nov 11)
Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine (Lab) said: “We are in danger of shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic.”
The panel was told there has been difficulty in people booking GP slots across Kent, which residents are “increasingly” experiencing.
It comes as new NHS data reveals that the number of full-time GPs in Kent has reduced from 1,295 in September 2015 to 1,180 in June 2021. In addition, the KCC committee was told a Tonbridge and Malling resident made 80 phone calls to their GP before they received a response.
Cllr Andrew Kennedy (Con), of Malling North East, who is KCC’s public health chair, said: “The quality of care when you see a GP is fantastic, but it is getting to see a GP that is the problem.”
Romney Marsh county councillor Tony Hills (Con) suggested hiring more GP apprentices as a potential solution. He said Kent’s NHS was “fishing from the same pond” as other national health trusts, with regards to recruitment of more GPs.
He added: “Learning on the street and going out to GP surgeries is the way forward. That’s why the apprenticeship system is ideal.”
The Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which oversees the running of GPs, laid out a series of proposed short and long-term actions. They include improving communication with residents to improve understanding of alternative options, such as 111, and using pharmacies and urgent treatment centres to help meet demand.
About 883,900 GP bookings were made in Kent in September 2021, including 552,500 face-to-face, which is the highest level since January 2020.
Bill Millar, the Kent and Medway CCG’s director of primary care, said: “We have to balance the needs of patients with the services that are available online, on the telephone and face-to-face.”
A further review is expected by KCC’s health scrutiny committee in March 2022.