One of the most regular complaints in my postbag from Constituents is about difficulty in getting an appointment with a GP. Sometimes the problem can be attributed to cumbersome surgery appointment systems, but increasingly it is because there simply are not enough doctors to satisfy an ever-growing demand, particularly in Kent.
Lack of GPs was the subject of a recent meeting between Kent MPs, the Primary Care Health Minister Maria Caulfield, and the Interim Accountable Officer for Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Paul Bentley.
Challenges to GP numbers include competition from London (where pay is usually better through weighting allowances), increasing retirements from overworked doctors, with others reducing their weekly hours for self-preservation. In Kent and the Southeast generally the relatively high cost of living can be a disincentive to locate here, and demand in the county is also rising significantly due to population growth within so many new housing developments.
After the Kent MPs meeting I asked Paul Bentley what is being done to redress the situation and, speaking candidly, he feels our area is ‘particularly under doctored’ and fully acknowledges the scale of the challenge. He says that the opening of local training facilities is a big win, with our new Kent and Medway Medical School in Canterbury. Locally trained doctors often stay local in practice, but this facility is limited to one hundred places a year and the first Kent doctors originating from here will only qualify in 2030 so he is looking urgently for additional routes for recruitment.
Having held an inaugural ‘summit’ last week at his CCG, with staff and doctors brainstorming sustainable strategies, Paul is also looking for some creative output from Professor Claire Fuller’s ‘stocktake’ report - of how primary care can best be supported within the emergent integrated care systems - to meet the health needs of people in their local areas. Downs Mail readers can still contribute to the #FullerStocktake here: https://fullerstocktake.crowdicity.com/category/browse
Another measure currently being utilized with some success is spreading GP workloads by upskilling other surgery staff under the NHS ARRS scheme, but the status quo is untenable, and clearly there needs to be central government intervention too. Minister Caulfield, herself a former NHS nurse, does ‘get’ that and has invited engagement with an open door. I have written to her to follow-up on her offer accordingly. If we are ill, a doctor should be available to us quickly, and delay for some could be serious if not fatal. Something has to be done.