Dr Paul Myers, chair of the Royal College of GPs in Wales, said the problem is ‘really serious’ and that the system needs greater investment.
The GP profession in Wales is at risk of crumbling in just five years unless greater investment is put into the system, a leading doctor has warned.
Dr Paul Myers, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) in Wales, said issues with workforce and recruitment as well as increasing workloads for GPs meant morale was at rock bottom and some practices were facing closure.
He warned that unless there was a increase in NHS funding for the profession from 7.8% to 11%, general practice in Wales could fall apart in a matter of years.
The College, which has launched a petition to send to all surgeries across Wales urging patients to sign and support general practice, says this increase in funding would be enough to transform care for patients and benefit the NHS as a whole by alleviating pressure on hospitals and providing cost effective care closer to home.
Dr Myers said: “The problem is really serious. What I am hearing from practices really reflects my own experiences in terms of an increase in workload and a lack of resources. What has happened is that the proportion of money spent on primary care in the whole of the NHS has dropped from about 9% to 7.8% in recent years and that’s a big difference. And we’re not talking about money in the pockets of GPs, this is about money for general practice overall. On the whole, after listening to GPs and patients, we have managed to cope with that fall very well and maintained a high level of service. But people are getting older and we have got more illness in Wales so there is a greater need for a very strong primary care sector.
“There are more patients with more conditions and although we can do more for them than we used to this means extra work for GPs.”
Dr Myers said he supported a move by the NHS in Wales to provide more care in the community but said it was vital general practice was given the resources to do this.
He said: “We want to spend longer with patients and I am very keen to support the concept that the best place to care for people is in their own communities and I am very keen to provide continuity for services but this has become increasingly difficult.
“What we are asking for is an increase in funding and for this to be done by 2017. It’s got to be done otherwise there’s a danger general practice will collapse. We reckon that if these changes are not made, general practice may not survive beyond five years. We do not want to have to wait until the last minute to try to recover the situation.”
The RCGP said that 23% of GPs in Wales are over 55, with many choosing early retirement due to the pressures and lack of resources and that without an increase in funding, patients will not get the standard of care they deserve.
Dr Myers said: “People are saying they are stressed, they want to retire early. It is a crisis and we are not managing to get people into Wales.
“We know that from the National Survey for Wales that 38% of patients are having to wait to see their GP and that is only going to get worse. People are going to have to wait longer, and they will only be able to discuss one or two problems at a time and corners will have to be cut which will make the services less safe. The more we are rushed, the more chance there is that something will be missed. I have no doubt that if you do not put in the extra resources, patients are going to get a worse experience and they are going to suffer.”
Dr Myers’ comments come just a month after Dr Charlotte Jones, chair of the British Medical Association’s Welsh General Practitioners Committee, warned that general practice in Wales was in “intensive care”.
Dr Jones told the annual Local Medical Committee Conference: “I stand here before you today – a damsel in distress.
“Distressed because general practice in Wales is in intensive care.
“The tubes are in, the monitor pings away and the ventilator is working flat out. Will the patient survive? Who knows?
“The workforce situation, unless urgently addressed, will further exacerbate the problems we face. If it sounds like a crisis, smells like a crisis, feels like a crisis then it is a crisis and that needs to be said.
“Welsh Government cannot simply stick its head in the sand hoping it will go away.”
The Welsh Government said it was aware there were issues with GP recruitment but were working with professional bodies to address them.
A spokesman said: “We recognise there are concerns about GP recruitment and retention, especially in some rural communities. “Where there are recruitment issues which need to be addressed, the Welsh Government is working in collaboration with the Royal College of GPs, the Wales Deanery, GPC Wales and health boards to promote Wales as an attractive place to live and work.
“These include developing new training and recruitment schemes for GPs, considering different contractor models, and looking at how the skills of the whole primary care team can be better used.”