GP services ‘in trouble’ as borough has lowest capacity on Merseyside

There are deteriorating levels of patient satisfaction.

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Knowsley has some of the lowest number of GPs per population in the region according to a new local authority report which described GP services as in ‘trouble’.

The report, produced ahead of a meeting of Knowsley’s Better Together Board due to meet at Court Hey Park on Wednesday, states that the borough has the least number of GPs, once the size of population is taken into account, than other local authorities across both Merseyside and Cheshire.

According to the the council’s report, the situation ‘reflects some of the demographic and socioeconomic challenges in Knowsley’ which may make it more difficult to recruit and retain medical professionals within the borough.

This is despite NHS Digital figures showing the number of fully qualified GPs in Knowsley increased in 2022. The latest figures (published in November 2022), show there were 100 GPs in the area, but of these, 19 were in training, meaning 81 were fully qualified – up from 75 a year earlier.

Patients in a GP waiting room.Patients in a GP waiting room.
Patients in a GP waiting room.

GP practices in Knowsley: There are currently 25 GP practices across Knowsley operating across 32 different locations, with the vast majority open for new patient registrations.

With over 840,000 GP consultations last year in the borough, the number of appointments has increased above pre-pandemic levels by just under 2%.  This is in contrast to elsewhere in the region where appointment levels have increased by more like 9%.

National picture: Figures published at the end of 2022 show that England faced the biggest year-on-year fall in over three years in fully qualified GPs, despite the Government’s pledge to recruit 6,000 more GPs by 2025. At the time, the British Medical Association (BMA) trade union said this was ‘alarming’.

Knowsley council report: The report describes some of the challenges faced by general practice in recent years, stating that chronic staff shortages and the pressure from changes to working practices brought about due to covid has left the sector  ‘in trouble’ with ever deteriorating levels of patient satisfaction.

Among the issues raised was the unpopularity of remote methods of contacting GPs and the increasing use of telephone appointments.

According to the report, some patients have been left waiting around 40 minutes to speak to a receptionist, while the average waiting time is just over three minutes. However, it was noted that the sample size was small and no data is available about how many people hung up while waiting in the queue to speak to a receptionist.

The problems faced by general practice is impacting not only on patient satisfaction but also GPs, who are facing increasing levels of ‘burn out’ according to the report.

Steps being taken: Work is ongoing to improve telephone access and ‘empower’ patients with improved digital tools, as well as working to increase capacity across the workforce.

Improvement plans were submitted last month by primary care networks with the aim of improving patient access to GP services, with a regional level primary care recovery plan also in development although the report adds that these measures will “take time” for the impact to be seen.

The report will be discussed at a meeting of the Knowsley Better Together board being held at Court Hey Park on Wednesday, July 12 at 10am

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