The petition forms part of a new ‘Support Your Surgery’ campaign, launched by the association on Tuesday, which aims to explain to the public the pressure general practice is under and why face-to-face appointments have been cut back during the pandemic.
A survey by the BMA of 1,732 adults in England to support the campaign’s launch, found that almost half believed that more GPs were needed in their surgery.
The survey also found that 58% backed the measures their practice had introduced because of COVID-19, including remote appointments and social distancing.
Despite this, GPs and their teams have faced increasing levels of abuse from patients frustrated by delays to care and access to appointments, as a result of the pandemic.
A separate BMA survey earlier this month found that more than half of GPs have personally experienced verbal abuse in the previous month, while over two thirds have witnessed violence or abuse against colleagues. Some 67% said their experience of abuse had got worse during the past year.
Official data show that despite the move to more remote consultations because of COVID-19, well over half of appointments in general practice are being delivered face-to-face. A total of 56.3% of appointments – not including millions for COVID-19 jabs – were delivered face-to-face in June this year.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This campaign is about being upfront and honest with our patients. We know that COVID-19 has changed how GP services look and feel, and that it can be incredibly frustrating for patients who just want to see their doctor, face-to-face, without delay.
‘We, like the rest of the NHS, were ill-prepared for the pandemic – with decades of underfunding and seriously short on staff, and the consequences of the last 18 months have added significantly to these pressures. They have also been understandably very stressful for patients and, sadly, this has resulted in poor behaviours, or worse, with some staff reporting cases of abuse and violence from patients.
‘This isn’t the way we want it to be. GPs and their teams are just as frustrated, and while the general practice workforce have done everything in their power to improve pressures in their own surgeries, we can’t make the changes we and our patients want to see without urgent government backing and funding.
‘It’s important that patients understand the reality of this crisis and that, despite the easing of lockdown, the pressures on general practice will only get worse if nothing is done.’
Recent data on appointments have highlighted just how much pressure GP practices are currently under. In June 2021, general practice delivered 12% more appointments that in the same month in 2019, before the pandemic. When COVID-19 vaccintion appointments were factored in, the data show practices were providing 31% more appointments than in June 2019.
Meanwhile, the GP workforce increase by just 101 full-time equivalent GPs during the period from June 2019 to June 2021.
Recruiting more GPs
In its survey the BMA also asked members of the public who was responsible for addressing the ‘significant backlog of routine appointments’ in general practice. Some 27% said the government, 26% said GPs and other healthcare professionals, 19% said those running NHS England and 14% said CCGs.
Almost half of those members of the public surveyed by the BMA (44%) said that if they could make one improvement to their GP practice it would be to increase the number of doctors available.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘General practice is at a crossroads and the route for general practice to get through this crisis isn’t guaranteed at the moment.
‘We hope this campaign, with GPs and patients working together, is the beginning of not only giving general practice what it needs, but also what our patients rightfully deserve. We therefore urge everyone to sign our petition calling on government to provide the funding we need for better services and more doctors.’