The financial mess in hospitals is diverting attention away from general practice where an equally damaging crisis is being ignored, healthcare experts have argued.
Hospitals’ increasing deficit, which stood at £2bn at the end of last year, has dominated the state of the NHS debate in recent months with community doctors rarely being heard.
“A £2bn funding deficit certainly sounds dramatic, but hospitals don’t go bust: someone usually picks up the bill,” Professor Martin Roland, from the University of Cambridge, and Tower Hamlets GP Sir Sam Everington write in an editorial published in The BMJ. “General practice doesn’t have that luxury.”
The general practice share of the NHS budget has fallen progressively in the past decade, from a high of 11 per cent in 2006 to under 8.5 per cent now. Many practices will see further reductions over the next three years.
GPs are finding it harder to recruit trainees and to find partners to replace those increasingly retiring in their 50s. And in the past 10 years, the number of hospital consultants has increased at twice the rate of GPs.
The knock-on effects on general practice have been startling. A recent international survey by the US Commonwealth Fund found that only 22 per cent of GPs reported that the NHS was working well, a dramatic drop from 46 per cent in 2012, and that they experienced higher levels of stress than primary care doctors in any of the other countries surveyed.
“Urgent action is needed to restore the NHS,” the experts say. “But the crisis will not be averted by focusing on hospitals. If general practice fails, the whole NHS fails.”