GP warns pressure on NHS has 'never been greater' as doctors go private

Credit: ITV Anglia

Dr John Havard treating a patient at Saxmunham Health Centre, Suffolk.
Dr John Havard treating a patient at Saxmundham Health Centre, Suffolk. Credit: ITV Anglia

The NHS must recruit more GPs to the front line and find a way to stop its existing workforce from leaving if it is to survive, a doctor has warned.

Dr John Havard has worked as a GP at Saxmundham Health Centre in Suffolk for 37 years and said the pressure on surgeries has "never been as great" as it is now.

As a new private GP surgery - the county's first - was opened in Woodbridge by doctors who felt the demands within the NHS had grown excessive, the government insisted its plans to recruit hundreds of thousands of more staff over the next 15 years would ease pressures.

NHS GP Dr Havard said primary care would only survive as free at the point of use if those plans to recruit more frontline workers become a reality.

"The pressures have never been as great as they are now," he said. "The number of GPs on the ground has gone down, while consultant numbers in hospitals has gone up at the same time.

"We never had the intensity and complexity that we have now.

"We used to have one receptionist looking after the waiting room when I first started, whereas now we have four people answering the phone, but we have 500 calls a day.

"It's so much more intense. One person couldn't dream of dealing with that. Every single person seems to phone the doctor more than they used to - probably three times as often."

Researchers found that GP surgeries were suffering due to understaffing and high demand. Credit: ITV Anglia

Dr Havard added that England's ageing population was making the job more difficult, but it was not the only problem.

In 2020 the government promised to recruit an additional 6,000 GPs, but the number of GPs has actually dropped since, according to the British Medical Association.

In England, there are just 7.8 GPs per 10,000 people and in 2022 the NHS lost 254 GPs and 408 GP partners.

"I'm a strong believer in the NHS and I think its founding principle was on clinical need, not ability to pay," Dr Havard said.

"It could be saved but it will require more doctors and GPs on the frontline.

"Private providers will be based on selection and ability to pay, rather than clinical need.

"Health inequalities are massive throughout this country and the people with the worst health and actually getting the worst care. So we're not really putting the resources into where the need is.”

Nearby in Woodbridge, Dr Amanda Snelling and Dr Charlotte Ridout have started a new private GP practice due to the huge pressures they faced.

Dr Ridout said: "This organisation has come about from an obvious gap that Suffolk is the only county that doesn't have a face-to-face private GP. 

"It gives patient options and it relieves the local services.”

A 15-minute consultation at the private surgery costs £90 with Dr Ridout, and £45 for nurse Snelling.

Both intend to continue working NHS shifts alongside their private work.

A 15-minute consultation at the private surgery costs £90 with Dr Ridout, and £45 for nurse Snelling. Credit: ITV Anglia

In response to claims that the job of GPs was becoming harder, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are making it easier for patients to see and contact their GP and in September there were 135,000 more appointments per working day compared to a year ago.

“We are investing £240m to support practices to embrace the latest technology which will help beat the 8am rush and this government has delivered more than 2,000 additional doctors and 31,000 extra staff than in 2019.

“The NHS has also published the first ever Long-Term Workforce Plan, backed by over £2.4bn, to train hundreds of thousands more staff over the next 15 years.”

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