GPs' fund share 'lowest on record'
Patient care is being put at risk due to a slump in the amount of NHS budget spent on general practice - now the lowest on record, a royal college has warned.
In 2004/05, 10.3% of the NHS budget was spent on general practice but by 2011/12 this figure had dropped to 8.4%, according to analysis by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the National Association for Patient Participation.
The RCGP said the slump is compromising the standard of care GPs can offer patients, leading to longer waiting times and increasing pressure on hospitals.
This is despite the fact that 90% of contacts with patients across the NHS occur in general practice, it said.
Regional figures show that, in England, 10.6% of the NHS budget was spent on general practice in 2004/05, dropping to 8.5% by 2011/12.
In Scotland, 9.5% of the NHS budget was spent on general practice in 2004/05. By 2011/12, this had fallen to 7.8%.
And in Wales, 8.6% of the NHS budget was spent on general practice in 2004/05 but by 2011/12, this had fallen to 7.8%.
Figures are not available for Northern Ireland for 2004/05, but by 2011/12 the figure was down to 8.1% from 8.2% the previous year.
Polls carried out for the RCGP over the summer found 70% of GPs fear waiting times will worsen over the next two years.
Some 80% said they no longer had resources to provide high-level patient care and 47% said they have had to withdraw some patient services.
Chair of the RCGP Dr Maureen Baker said: "During the last nine years, GPs across the country have had to cope with a growing and an ageing population, in which more and more people have been affected by multiple, serious long-term conditions - and yet funding for general practice has been slashed.
"On the one hand, the people who run the NHS across the UK say they want more people to be cared for in the community. On the other, resources have relentlessly drifted away from community-based health services towards more expensive hospital-based care.
"The flow of funding away from general practice has been contrary to the rhetoric and has happened in the absence of any overall strategy as to how we spend the NHS budget.
"The share of the NHS budget spent on general practice has slumped to the lowest point on record.
"The various NHS bodies and governments who decide how we divide the NHS funding cake in the UK have inadvertently allowed a situation to develop in which funding for general practice is being steadily eroded. With services now at breaking point, it's time to come up with a plan to turn the tide."
The RCGP and NAPP are launching a new campaign, Put Patients First, Back General Practice, calling on the Government to increase NHS spending on general practice across the UK to 11% by 2017.
They said this could enable GPs to offer shorter waiting times for appointments, more flexible opening hours and more online services.
Dr Baker said: "We need to increase our investment in general practice as a matter of urgency, so that we can take the pressure off our hospitals, where medical provision is more expensive, and ensure that more people can receive care where they say they want it - in the community."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "GPs do a vital job which is why we increased their overall budget last year as part of this Government's protection of NHS spending.
"We recognise GPs are hard-pressed and as part of ambitious changes to the GP contract we will free them up from unnecessary red tape to devote more time to patients.
"This will go hand in hand with a £3.8 billion fund to join up health and social care and support the delivery of integrated services."