The traditional family doctor risks dying out due to a surge of burnt-out GPs fleeing the profession, Jeremy Hunt has warned.
The Health Secretary said decades of underfunding meant the “magic” of seeing a doctor who remembered their patients’ names was now under threat.
Reiterating a promise to provide an extra 5,000 practitioners by 2021, he also challenged the profession to improve efficiency and waste less time treating people not ill enough to need a GP.
Addressing the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) annual conference, Mr Hunt said: “For me the best thing is about the NHS is having a doctor who knows you and your family.”
But he added: “The truth is because we have underinvested in general practice over decades we have made it much, much harder for you to deliver the continuity of care I think is part of the magic of general practice.”
Because we have underinvested in general practice over decades we have made it much, much harder for you to deliver the continuity of care I think is part of the magic of general practiceJeremy Hunt
More GPs are leaving the profession than at any time since 1998, with 7,000 current practitioners indicating they are planning to quit, said Mr Hunt.
His warning followed the announcement of a package of £20,000 “golden hellos” to entice GPs to work in parts of the country most struggling to attract doctors.
The Government has pledged to boost the number of GPs in England from around 34,500 to 39,500 within the next three years, however medical leaders have questioned the feasibility of the goal.
Approximately one in five patients are waiting at least a week to see a GP, a 56 per cent rise in the last five years, while one in eight GP posts now lies empty.
“Too many of those GPs that I meet are knackered, they are often feeling at the end of their tether,” said Mr Hunt.
“They feel that they are on a hamster wheel of ten-minute appointments, 30 to 40 of them every day, unable to give the care they would like to.”
He also said that, due to the increase in the number of older patients with multiple health problems, the current 10-minute appointment allocation was “not working”.
However, Mr Hunt said GPs could release up to 60 minutes each a day if they became more organised.
Citing research suggesting one in four appointments are unnecessary, he encouraged practices to divert less ill patients to pharmacies and to embrace online consultations.
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The study of 20 local GP areas found that up to 80 per cent of issues can be resolved without a face-to-face appointment.
“This isn’t going to be something the Health Secretary solves for you; it’s going to be something that we solve together,” he said.
Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, said primary care was at risk of becoming a “gig economy like Deliveroo”.
“It is not inevitable, but there is a risk the traditional family doctor could die out if the underlying problems, such as funding and workloads, are not addressed.”
He added: “We have focused too much on access to a GP ‘at any cost’, rather than on ensuring patients can see the GP they want – the GP that knows them and their family.
GP partners earn more than £100,000, on average, but one in five are over the age of 55, with growing numbers retiring early.