Tonight: Fit for Practice?

Tonight: Fit for Practice? is on ITV at 7.30pm Credit: ITV / Tonight

Millions of us can wait at least a week to get an appointment with a GP. Doctors claim that an increasing number of patients, no extra funding and not enough GPs is pushing the system to crisis point. Tonight examines the issues facing general practice and asks, is our GP service fit for practice?

According to GPs there are 40 million more consultations a year than in 2008 and with many more patients, some elderly and unfit, these extra appointments just aren’t enough to meet demand. GPs are the first port of call for 90% of all NHS patients and on average, each of us will see our doctor six times a year - double the number of visits from a decade ago .

Tonight visited three very different surgeries across the country to see how these issues are affecting them and met the Doctors manning the medical front line.

Dr Ros Bonsor from the Beacon Primary care practice in Ormskirk allows us to follow her to film a ‘day in the life of’ as she deals with 34 patients on the phone and in person over a 12 hour day.

Dr Ros Bonsor conducting one of the 34 patients she dealt with in a day filming with the Tonight programme Credit: ITV / Tonight

We hear from Dr Naomi Beer and practice manager Virginia Patania from the Jubilee Street Practice about how budget cuts are threatening their survival and care for patients in one of the most deprived boroughs in London. They are one of 98 practices facing these reductions and doctors organisations warn that hundreds more surgeries may have to close over the next seven years.

Dr Beer's practice in East London is threatened with closure Credit: ITV / Tonight

And we travel to Bristol to speak to Dr Holly Hardy of the St Martins Surgery about the difficult decision her and her practice partner have had to make to resign under the strain of not being able to recruit more GPs. We hear about about a service under pressure and how fewer doctors mean increasing waiting times for patients.

Dr Holly Hardy Credit: ITV / Tonight

We speak to experts who say Doctors have never been so demoralised, that the service is at breaking point and that ten thousand more GPs are needed to avert a possible ‘time bomb’ in recruitment.

We also show how in an attempt to cut waiting times and make GPs more accessible, the government have invested £50 million on pilot projects. We visit one of these in North Manchester where a group of eight GP surgeries is a running a web based consultation service, headed up by Dr Mohammed Jiva. It’s hoped that by encouraging innovative ways of working more of us will get to see our GPs when it suits us. We also see how the scheme is working for the local A&E by sending non-urgent patients from the pilot area back to an arranged appointment with their GP.

Tonight also conducted an exclusive survey of 1000 doctors across the country in conjunction with The Royal College of General Practitioners. When asked how many surgeries had experienced funding cuts or anticipated funding cuts in the near future, 97% said that they did. Over 9% - that’s 90 doctors said - that they had closed their list to new patients, whilst 7% - that’s 70 doctors - told us that they had actually asked patients to leave the practice. And when Tonight asked how many would recommend general practice as a career choice, 60% said that they would not.

NHS England say that they have just committed to provide extra financial support to a small number of GP practices in London that serve patients in more deprived areas, including the Jubilee Street Practice. They add, that they are working to transform primary care services to meet the needs of 21st century London.

NHS England say that whilst they have accepted the resignation of the two doctors at St Martin’s Surgery in Bristol it does not mean that the surgery will close and interim cover is being agreed whilst the long term future is considered.

The government say that they are committed to train 10,000 more community health and care staff by 2020 and that they plan to improve GP access for 7.5 million people across the country. In recognition of the pressure GPs are under have cut targets by more than a third to free up more time with patients and have increased the number of GP trainees.