Demand for Suffolk GPs doubles, health leaders tell Suffolk County Council committee
The number of contacts at GP surgeries in Suffolk has nearly doubled, according to health leaders.
Suffolk’s health scrutiny committee meeting yesterday heard that primary care services may look different in future as they evolve to meet the needs of soaring demand, an ageing population and more complex healthcare problems.
Maddie Baker-Woods chief operating officer with Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group said that data on a proxy group of practices indicated 'near doubling' in each establishment, and practices with an average patient list of around 10,000 people are now responsible for 20,000 prescriptions per month.
In Norfolk and Waveney, around three million appointments were delivered at practices between April and August – a 940,000 increase on the same period in 2019/20 before the Covid-19 pandemic.
A report prepared ahead of the meeting indicated that Suffolk GPs were regularly consulting with 40-50 patients per day, as well as additional responsibilities around letters, prescriptions, home visits and blood test results, compared to the 25 per day considered 'safe and reasonable' in other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
Health leaders are assessing ways of meeting demand and ensuring the right healthcare is offered, but stressed that people would see changes in how primary care looked.
Sadie Parker, associate director for primary care in Norfolk and Waveney said: “General practice is no longer GPs and nurses – there is a vast array of roles now operating in general practice and that is a great thing because actually that increases the capacity we have available as well.
“In Norfolk and Waveney we are about to start a significant and sustained campaign to engage with residents to explain what general practice looks like now, what the different roles are, what they can do, what clinical triage is, what it is for, how it works, what it will be like for you.
“We know all of this is confusing for people, especially at the pace it has changed over the last 18 months or so.”
Some of the pressures have been around recruitment and retention of GPs and staff, the increasing size of the population and ageing population who require more healthcare needs, and people putting off health problems which can require more complex treatment than if they had been caught earlier.
Among areas where solutions are being sought are in measures to keep existing GPs – such as mid-career fellowships and flexible working, recruiting new GPs with five-year support programmes, and addressing liability concerns for practice partners.
Changes have already been seen in use of phone and video appointments – particularly during the height of the pandemic – to better triage patients to appropriate services.
However advice has also been issued to patients, which has included urging people to come forward if they have urgent healthcare problems and not waiting until Mondays to get in touch when surgeries traditionally see a spike in calls.
Dr Peter Smye, a GP partner at the Guildhall and Barrow Surgery in Bury St Edmunds said: “Maddie alluded to a doubling in demand and I think that is being felt across the system – it really feels like that at practice level.
“Going forward over the next 10 years we face a similar escalation in demand and this is a massive challenge to the system.
“The knock on effect is that quite a lot of that work will come into the community and how we can mitigate that.”