Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said he is ‘really concerned’ the UK could reach a point where patients are charged for doctor appointments
General practice could go the same way as dentistry — with millions having to pay for appointments, the country’s top doctor warned today.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, admitted he is ‘really concerned’ about the sector, which is plagued by a staffing crisis.
Family doctors are choosing to retire in their 50s, moving abroad or leaving to work in the private sector because of soaring demand and paperwork.
Unless the situation changes drastically, Britain’s taxpayer-funded GP sector could be left on its knees.
Professor Marshall warned it would see patients who can’t afford to pay left with an ‘inadequate safety net’.
While GP appointments are free, patients in England have to fork out £23.80 for any routine dental check-ups.
Poorer patients say they’ve been left with no option but to pull out their own teeth or travel abroad for cheaper dental treatment.
Overall, there are now nearly 1,700 fewer full-time equivalent GPs than in 2015. But projections warn the gap could grow even bigger.
It has led to a major appointments crisis, which has left patients struggling to see a doctor and piling pressure on A&E units.
Official health service data, which records the number of adults seen by NHS dentists in 24-month periods shows the drastic decline in the number of people seeing a dentist since the pandemic. While people struggled to access NHS dentistry services before Covid due to a lack of appointments, the situation has deteriorated further with 6million fewer people seen compared to pre-pandemic levels
Millions of people have been left without access to dental care after the number of NHS dentists fell to their lowest level ever last year
GP receptionists ‘need new name’ and should have career path, doctor says
The role of a GP receptionists should be renamed and be included in a career path, a doctor has said.
Dr Claire Fuller, a GP and chief executive officer of Surrey Heartlands integrated care system, said receptionists have more contact with patients than anyone else in the NHS but are ‘the most overlooked’ part of the health service.
Speaking on a panel about the future of general practice today, she said receptionists are among the lowest paid and not included in NHS future planning.
She said: ‘We need to create a career path.
‘We need to create it so when you walk past your surgery on your way to school, one of your aspirations is you might start as an apprentice within a practice as a receptionists — but we need a better name for it — but you work up through.
‘We need to start to create different career trajectories for people so they can see a work future beyond being the job of traditional female-only occupation as it has been.’
Professor Marshall’s comments were made today at a panel discussing the future of general practice, hosted by the Policy Exchange thinktank.
He said: ‘Dentists are finding it increasingly difficult to provide the service they want to apply to their patients and [are] therefore going private.
‘And now we’ve ended up in a place where there is a very inadequate safety net service for those who can’t afford to pay and the majority of people do pay for their dentistry care.
‘Could general practice go that way? It could do.’
Professor Marshall argued a ‘growing numbers of GPs’ are deciding to work privately across the country, ‘not just in big metropolitan areas’.
He added: ‘That worries me greatly because the fundamental principle of the NHS around open access to all, irrespective of [one’s] ability to pay, is such an important principle to my mind.
‘It is such an important part of what’s important to us as a set of values as a country that I worry about it greatly. So yes, I am worried.’
Only children, pregnant women, new mothers and those on benefits are eligible for free dental treatments on the NHS.
Everyone else faces paying at least £23.80 for NHS routine check-up, diagnosis and advice, as well as emergency care.
If they go privately, a check-up can cost up to £120, while fillings cost up to £175 and tooth extraction is as high as £370.
More patients have been forced to go private as dental surgeries close their doors to NHS patients, saying it is no longer financially viable to offer procedures at health service rates.
Nearly 90 per cent of practices in England are now not taking on new patients.
Patients have been known to call up to 40 practices to find an NHS dentist taking on new patients.
Health chiefs unveiled plans this week to ease the dentist appointments crisis, which will see patients wait for up to two years between check-ups, rather than six months.
It comes as patient satisfaction with general practice has fallen across the board. A poll of 700,000 people with long-term health conditions in England found that only 72 per cent of patients reported a good experience with their surgery (shown in map)
The survey also found that more than half of patients (55 per cent) who needed an appointment in the 12 months to April failed to secure one, up from 42 per cent the previous year. The main reason for a quarter of patients was that it was too difficult to book one, while a fifth said they did not want to burden the NHS
In another move designed to ease pressure on dentists, dental therapists will now be allowed to carry out fillings and a range of treatments.
Under previous guidance therapists, only trained to do routine work, had to wait for instructions on how to treat patients.
Dentists have also been told to publish up-to date info on whether they accept new NHS patients.
Speaking at the Policy Exchange event, Jacob Lant, head of policy, public affairs and research at Healthwatch England warned that general practice would follow in the footsteps of dentistry if patients were no longer linked to a practice.
He said: ‘In 2006, we ended the idea that you have your dental practice. So you’re not registered at a dentist the same way you are with a GP.
‘You can theoretically go anywhere. But that then makes access much trickier.
‘If we ever break the relationship between the patient and their GP practice we could definitely end up in the same place as we are with dentistry.’
It comes as patient satisfaction with general practice has fallen across the board.
A poll of 700,000 people with long-term health conditions in England found that more than half of patients (55 per cent) who needed an appointment in the 12 months to April failed to secure one, up from 42 per cent the previous year.
The main reason for a quarter of patients was that it was too difficult to book one, while a fifth said they did not want to burden the NHS.
Patients struggled to see a GP for check-ups, treatment and drug reviews during the pandemic as surgeries switched the majority of consults to phone and video.