What’s going on with GP services in Frimley Green ?

Tonight I attended the Frimley Green Mytchett & Deepcut Society AGM, where Dr Richard de Ferrars and his colleague Dr Maria Birtchnell presented on the past, present and future of Bartlett Group Practice.

I thought it was very brave of them. The headline on the present was they were “in a deeeeep hole”.

Dr de Ferrars explained that the problem was a lack of GPs. Doctors do not want to be GPs these days, they prefer to work in hospitals. The practice has recently gone from oferring 136 sessions a week to 85 sessions a week, they are down 30% on GP headcount. Dr de Ferrars told me last year that a recent advert for a GP had yielded zero applicants.

It is not widely appreciated that GP practices are private businesses. They always have been. GP practices are NOT run by the NHS, GPs who work in them are NOT employed by the NHS. They are employed by the private practice. There is no such thing as a NHS GP salary, each private practice sets GP salaries. The NHS estimate GP salaries using anonymised GP tax returns they get from HMRC.

The fact is GP practices are isolated from the NHS and this means there is no integration of GPs with the wider NHS in terms of computer systems. This won’t change without significant reform. Reform that the GP’s union, the British Medical Association (BMA), (that was against the NHS being created in the first place), has always blocked.

GP practices are paid by the NHS for the work that they do. Fewer GPs means they do less work so NHS spend on General Practice has dropped from 11.5% to 8% even though the NHS budget has increased massively in recent years (£730m a week more since 2016).

I had heard that the Bartlett Group Practice did not offer competitive salaries for GPs. When I asked Dr de Ferrars about this tonight he said they paid one of the best salaries in the area.

This seems to be paying off, as they also announced they had 6-7 NEW GPs starting in September, which is great news.

There were questions from residents (and Councillors) about how the planning system is joined up with GP service provision. The fact is the planning process is not joined up with service provsion very well.

Planning applications cannot be turned down on the basis that, for example, sewage discharge or healthcare services have not been secured. Currently it is left to the market to meet the needs of new developments. If a new housing estate needs more GPs, GP service providers are expected to step forward to meet the demand, which they would if they could do so.

But this is impossible if there is a shortage of GPs. As Dr de Ferrars pointed out, we desperately need a national NHS workforce strategy to address this, the last time we had one was 20 years ago.

Until this is fixed, and/or the law is changed, it will be difficult to ensure that new housing does not go ahead unless it is supported by new GPs.

In the meantime, fingers crossed the new GPs at Bartlett Group Practice will improve Frimley Green residents experience of General Practice.

Stuart Black, 22 May 2023.