Express & Star comment: Alarm bells ringing on dip in GPs
The sharp decrease in GP numbers across the region should set alarm bells ringing – particularly when the consequences are examined.
According to NHS data, the number of family doctors has plummeted in recent years, leading to concerns over patient safety.
Many areas that were once served by several doctors surgeries now have just one – and this is at a time when the population across the West Midlands is growing at a rapid rate.
One of the key issues here centres around the workloads of those GPs that have remained in their jobs.
- Rising workload as number of GPs falls in Black Country and Staffordshire
- GP shortage causing headache for West Midland patients
With demand going up, there are genuine concerns that some doctors may be seeing more patients than they think is safe.
In fact, according to one study, over-tired doctors were sometimes seeing twice as many patients as they should.
This poses a risk to patients, and also means doctors may not be as sympathetic to their needs as they should be during appointments.
One doctor in this newspaper today tells of working a shift that lasted for 12 hours, during which she saw 100 patients.
Sadly, such high numbers are not uncommon, and many GPs across the entire country will have similar stories of how their workloads have become almost unbearable.
With an issue as vital as public health, the nation's workforce needs to be fully focused and properly rested.
Sky high caseloads can only lead to mistakes, and these could be fatal.
A GP suffering from fatigue could easily miss a result, misdiagnose a patient, or fail to ask the right question due to tiredness.
Tragically, the situation is likely to get worse, with GP shortages in England predicted to almost triple to 7,000 by 2023-24.
Ministers are fully aware of the problem, and the urgency with which it must be dealt with in order to protect the public.
However, it looks increasingly likely that a target to recruit 5,000 more GPs by next year will fall short.
If that does happen, the only solution is put more pharmacists and physiotherapists into GP practices – something which is far from ideal.
Tragic though it may be, this appears to be a situation that we are all going to have to get used to.