Staff shortages and unmanageable workloads risks patient safety

Posted on: December 19th, 2016

With over 340 million consultations taking place every year, acting as the first point of call for health care, as well as a continual point of contact for those suffering from chronic conditions, it is essential that GPs are able to provide adequate care to each and every patient who walks through their doors.

However, despite the crucial role of general practitioners in our health care system, a recent survey published by the British Medical Association has uncovered that nearly a third of GP practices in England have been unable to fill staff vacancies during the past 12 months, with 32% of practices in the South East and 30% in the South West operating with vacancies that have remained unfulfilled for at least one year.

These persistent holes in their workforce mean that GP practices are putting at risk their ability to provide care of a consistent standard to patients at their first port of call for diagnosis and treatment. These gaps in permanent staff have led to a need to rely on locum staff, where availability can be unpredictable and standards inconsistent.

The problems with lack of staff has led to GP’s agreeing that their excessive workloads have at times prevented them from providing quality and safe care to their patients. The South East and South West were among the top regions to agree with this statement, at 59% and 60% respectively, with the national average being 57%.

Of the more than 5,000 GP’s in England surveyed, 84% said excessive workload is preventing safe delivery of care. This, along with the national average of 31% of practices having unfulfilled vacancies for at least 12 months places in jeopardy patient care for the foreseeable future unless action is taken to remedy staff shortages. GPs are at risk of misdiagnosing and overlooking serious medical conditions from failing to properly assess patients either resulting from a lack of time to carry out proper consultations with patients or an inability to carry out follow-up assessments due to staff shortages.

Strong calls to help struggling GP surgeries have been made in the past, however with promises of reform from the likes of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to recruit 5,000 more GP’s back in 2014 now being rolled back on, improvements in general practice are unlikely to be addressed in the near future.

At Coffin Mew, we have experience assisting clients with many clinical negligence claims across the South Coast. Our experience includes dealing with claims where there has been a lack of sufficient GP care causing missed or inaccurate diagnosis as a direct result of GP negligence.