Seven out of ten GPs are seeing a ‘worrying’ rise in the number of patients seeking help with problems linked to the rising cost-of-living, according to the UK’s largest membership body representing family doctors.
Seventy-three percent of GPs who responded to the survey by the Royal College of GPs said they had noticed a visible increase in patients presenting with problems associated with poor diet and poverty, compared to last year.
They report that patients are increasingly asking for support with non-medical items including access to council services and financial advice.
The survey also reveals that a mammoth 93 % of GP respondents were concerned that the rising number of patients needing support with the cost of living would limit their ability to provide the medical care that patients need.
As well as the impact of the cost of living on patients’ mental and physical health, College Chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne is warning about the knock-on effect this is having on the health and wellbeing of GPs.
General practice is already under enormous workload and workforce pressures, with many GPs finding these intolerable and having to leave the profession, resulting in a vicious cycle of staff shortages and even greater challenges in providing patients with the care they need. These shortages are worse in deprived areas, with GPs looking after more patients (per Full Time Equivalent) than those in more affluent areas.
The College says the findings make it ‘imperative’ for the Government to reform funding formulas to better support practices in more deprived areas. This means adapting the existing range of funding pots to make them flexible to meet local needs and account for levels of deprivation to help deal with growing health inequalities.
The College regularly ‘tracks’ the state of general practice and the experiences of its members through the annual survey but it is the first time that it has included a specific question on the cost of living and the impact of poverty on patients in response to growing concerns from members. This will now remain part of the survey and continue to be tracked over time.
The survey results – representing the views of 1,855 GP respondents – come in the wake of Health Foundation analysis that shows patients living in the poorest areas have the lowest number of GPs, and their practices have relatively less funding to deal with a greater number of patients with multiple and complex health conditions.*
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “We hear a lot in the press about the rising cost of living, but our survey results show the tangible and worrying impact that this is having on our patients’ health, and on the dedicated GPs who are caring for them.
“Our GPs witness daily the devastating health effects that the rising cost of living and spiraling deprivation is having on patients in many communities across the UK. The link between poverty and worsening health has long been established, taking a physical, emotional, and psychological toll which can result in the early development, or exacerbation of existing multiple chronic conditions.
“We’re also seeing patients with diseases that should have been confined to the annals of history – malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies and even rickets – presenting in many GP surgeries across the UK.
“GPs are doctors, not financial advisers or housing officers, but we are often the first ports of call in a crisis. Through links to social prescribing, general practice can and does offer a vital lifeline to many of the most vulnerable in society.
“GPs fully understand how social factors cause health inequalities and from there, serious problems in physical and mental health, but because they often have no power to make the changes needed, they are unable to offer solutions to their patients which get to the root of the problem. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that the areas most affected receive the least support to tackle the crisis.
“We will always do our very best for all our patients, but the demand for our services is rising at the same time as we have more GPs leaving the profession than entering it, and general practice itself is now in dire need of support.
“Our patients and our GPs deserve better. That’s why it is imperative that the Government increases support for general practice and all our patients, with a particular focus on GP practices in deprived areas.”