Pressure on GPs is “dangerously close to a death spiral” due to doctors leaving, one has warned.
Dr Paul Evans, who works in Gateshead, told the BBC it was “typical” for GPs to see more than twice as many patients a day than is recommended as safe.
He said the problem is only worsening as the pressure leads to more GPs leaving the profession.
The NHS said it had recruited more than 4,000 trainee GPs in 2022 hitting government targets.
Dr Evans told BBC Politics North (North East and Cumbria) the British Medical Association’s safe working guidance states a GP should have up to 25 “patient encounters a day”.
But, he said, on a “typical Monday” it was “not unusual” for a doctor to have “40, 50 sometimes even 60 direct patient contacts”.
He said: “There is evidence that quality falls when contacts start to accumulate and undoubtedly I’m sharper for my first patient of the day than I am for my last.
“We are dangerously close to entering a death spiral in general practice where as pressure mounts, more leave, no-one wants to come in so pressure mounts on those remaining and more leave and so on and so forth.”
Patients in east Durham told the BBC they were facing difficulties in speaking to doctors, with one woman saying they had to call before 08:00 to get an appointment but “you cannot get through”.
Dr Kamal Sidhu, chairman of the Durham and Darlington Local Medical Committee, said there was not “sufficient investment into the NHS” so “we have lost a lot of our colleagues”.
He said: “Even now, when the GP training places have been increased, quite a significant chunk of them who finish the training leave the system because they find the system so hard to work in.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the BBC the NHS was a priority and “billions of pounds extra” would be invested, adding: “I’m confident because we are putting in the extra resources we will be able to find a way to improve the services.”
Health Education England (HEE) said 4,032 trainee doctors had accepted placements on GP programmes in 2022 against a target of 4,000, hitting the “government’s target for GP specialty trainee recruitment for the fifth year running”.
An HEE spokesman said there were 9,628 GPs in training grade in GP placements across England as of September 2022 according to NHS Digital figures.
Professor Simon Gregory, medical director of primary and integrated care at HEE, said: “There is no denying that it is a difficult time for the profession, with GPs under growing pressure as demand increases – but it is heartening that thousands of doctors are continuing to see general practice as a rewarding and valuable career.
“We have consistently met or exceeded annual GP training targets and initiatives like the national Choose GP campaign demonstrate our ongoing commitment to helping to provide a sustainable workforce.”
Patients will be able to make more informed choices on the GP practice they choose to visit after data showing detailed appointment waiting times was published for the first time ever today (Thursday).
The Department of Health and Social Care said data for each GP practice is now being published to showing patients how long appointments are taking to be made which should “help them make informed choices when choosing their practice”.
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