Health bosses urged to address looming GP ‘crisis’

Clr James Walsh, retired GP, warned of a 'crisis' in primary care at a committee meeting
Clr James Walsh, retired GP, warned of a 'crisis' in primary care at a committee meeting

Health bosses are being urged to tackle a growing ‘crisis’ in general practice – as GPs struggle with an aging population, increasing demand and a lack of resources.

Surgeries in West Sussex are closing their doors to patients while others are being forced to pool resources in a bid to combat a shortage of doctors.

Members of West Sussex Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee (HASC) met at County Hall in Chichester on January 20 to discuss the challenges facing primary care.

Retired GP, Councillor James Walsh, who practiced for 40 years, said: “I’m extremely pessimistic about the future of primary care services in West Sussex.

“The demise of the GP and nurse practitioners is really quite alarming with large proportions likely to retire in the next four to five years.

“It is a self perpetuating situation. There is an atmosphere of wanting to get out before it gets worse.”

A report by West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and NHS England (South) said: “Action is being taken to address workforce and infrastructure issues, while work is taking place across the country to test potential new models of care, so that services can be designed which will meet the needs of patients.”

The report identified a risk from the number of GPs and practice nurses set to retire in the next five years.

In Crawley, 14 per cent of GPs and 41 per cent of practice nurses are aged over 55.

In Coastal West Sussex, 15 per cent of GPs and 28 per cent of practice nurses could retire within five years.

The report said a five-year plan to address the shortage will include incentives such a extra training, encouraging staff set to retire to go part-time and asking doctors to return to general practice from other fields.

In Worthing and Adur, a new children’s walk-in centre and a pilot scheme to introduce four Minor Illness And Minor Injuries (MIAMI) clinics have been launched – made possible by a £1.6 million funding boost.

Cllr Walsh added: “I don’t want to be in the position where we look back on 2016 as better than it is now.

“I really do see a crisis coming at this stage I don’t see any sense of us averting it.”

GP services are also coping with an ageing population and an increasing number of patients with complex needs and long-term conditions, who require more intensive support from GP services.

Cllr Brenda Smith called for services to work more closely to care for the ageing population.

“The last place you want to be if you are elderly and have dementia is a hospital,” she told the committee.

“We have the CCGs for primary care and for mental health we have totally different providers. That is a big, big problem.”

Members also expressed concern that new housing developments would put pressure on GP services.

Cllr David Sheldon questioned how district councils’ local plans included provision for primary care services and called for more concrete plans for service provision from NHS England.

Cllr Amanda Jupp said: “We should make sure that medical centre or a practice is at the heart of this development. It is absolutely vital.”

The committee said it would called representatives from NHS England (South) to the next meeting of HASC to address the issue of sustainable primary care.