In July 2022, The Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee published a report on recruitment, training, and retention in health and social care. The report stated that the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs has fallen by 717 in the three years leading up to March 2022, despite government plans to create 6,000 more roles.
Workforce pressures are not unique to primary care or to recent times. For example, there were significant workload rises and funding pressures in the early 1960s.
What is unique about the situation faced by GPs in the 2020s is that the sector has experienced a once-in-a-century pandemic, significant staff burnout and a cost-of-living crisis, which is anticipated to have a detrimental impact on people’s health, widening health inequalities.
In this article, we will be discussing the current workforce issues faced in primary care and how digital transformation plans could help alleviate pressures.
Current workforce pressures in primary care
A stable and well-resourced workforce is the cornerstone of delivering consistent care to patients. However, The Royal College of General Practitioners has found that 42% of GPs said they’re likely to quit the role in the next 5 years.
From this statistic alone, we understand the importance that primary care retains its health professionals so the sector can keep up with the demands and expectations the population.
Demand vs supply
Primary care has been facing extraordinarily high demand, with over 337 million appointments delivered across England in 2021 alone. The Health Foundation has also determined that there’s currently a shortfall of around 4,200 FTE GPs and could rise to 8,900 by 2030/31.
We can compare the number of GPs in England to countries in the EU as another indication of a struggling workforce. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Data, in 2021 the United Kingdom had just 3.2 doctors per 1000 people, below the average of 3.9, and well below 4.5 noted in Germany.
It’s apparent that with such growth in demand and rising expectations from care, the ability to meet the needs of the service with a diminishing workforce (which is already below average) is amplifying pressures on health professionals.
A digital solution can play a part in helping general practice staff to manage both clinical and non-clinical queries, triaging incoming requests based on urgency and GP availability. Artificial intelligence can be used to flag and assign emergency requests to the most appropriate members of staff, saving staff time and speeding up responses to patients.
The GP Worklife Survey published in 2022 found that ‘GPs reported the greatest stress due to increasing workloads, increased demands from patients, having insufficient time to do the job justice, paperwork (including electronic) [and] long working hours.’
The survey also found that on average, GPs are working 6.3 sessions - which would be considered part-time at around 26 hours a week. However, the average amount of hours worked stands at 38.4. So, although some general practitioners would be classed as being part-time, they’re still accumulating full-time hours to factor in all the needs of the day.
An online consultation solution utilises multiple functionalities, such as free-text questionnaires, image uploading and flexible messaging templates to help mitigate these challenges. GPs can gather a detailed account of their patients query when using digital tools, whilst saving time as they reduce their reliance on manual processes.
And to reduce workload pressures, digital consultation technologies may can also offer the ability to turn off incoming requests, so GPs never get overwhelmed during times of peak workload.
Plans for tackling workforce issues in general practice
We recognise that without mitigating the problems faced by general practitioners, health professionals working in primary care will continue trying to meet demand with less time or resource available, potentially pushing those within the service to leave.
Digital transformation has been a service wide priority, with primary care being no exception. Last year, the NHS set to increase the GP workforce ahead of winter pressures. 1,250 digital and transformation leads were to be recruited to support practices when implementing and monitoring digital solutions that help to improve patient access.
Technology plays a key role in primary care delivery, with electronic patient records, appointment booking and repeat prescriptions. Health professionals wait with interest to see how these additional roles will support the service as they continue to struggle with growing workforce pressures.
Take a look at a real story of the impact of PATCHS online consultation at Langworthy Medical Practice to discover how using a digital consultation solution can help you manage your workforce pressures.
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Online consultations can help GPs to manage workflows by autonomously triaging appointments based on urgency and availability. The PATCHS solution helps your practice to control levels of demand, with the option to turn off incoming clinical or non-clinical requests during times of peak workload.
Find out more about our PATCHS solution, and how it can help reduce the impact of workforce pressures in your practice.