The UK’s MPs and journalists repeatedly say they want “GPs to get back to work”. But instead of asking this, they need to speak to staff in their local general practices to understand what the issues are that are causing problems for patients in gaining access primary care services, whether via a face to face appointment or by telephone. The number of GPs per person in England has declined in recent years. At the same time, the volume and complexity of care has increased steadily year-on-year. These problems have been compounded by the rebound in primary care activity following an initial fall at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many GPs report that they and their teams are now dealing with a record level of work.
In this context, asking GPs to “get back to work” is insulting for them and their teams. GPs made major changes in the way they work at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to protect patients – with little additional support from NHS England – and are now struggling with long-term shortages of doctors and other staff, and unsafe levels of workload. If GPs and journalists spoke to the staff in their local general practices, they would understand these issues better and also be more aware of potential solutions. Better-informed MPs and journalists might then actually be able to apply pressure on the government to urgently address the many problems that face NHS general practices in England, and bring an end to the culture of “sticking plaster solutions” that NHS England has offered in recent years.