The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) is now reporting that the ever-mounting pressure on GP workloads is putting patients at risk of mistakes being made by medical professionals, therefore potentially putting patients at risk of medical negligence.
Pointing out that the same pressures GPs now face could never be placed on pilots or train drivers, the RCGP is now calling for a system of distress signals that would allow doctors to raise the alarm when pressure on practices reaches an extreme level. These measures could limit, and in the worst case scenarios prevent, patient intake at over-capacity facilities and force other areas of the NHS system to help. The RCGP is also considering the notion of mandatory breaks to relieve the pressures on GPs and reduce the risk of mistakes and clinical negligence occurring when diagnosing or treating patients.
Highlighting the nature of the problem, the RCGP has produced a paper demonstrating how consultations have risen by nearly a fifth in the last 5 years (reaching over 360 million), whilst the number of new GPs recruited to face this challenge has not kept pace. There are now fewer GPs per person than there were in 2009, which has led to an increase in GP workloads. The RCGP estimate that an additional 3,300 doctors are required in order to meet the demands of the system as it stands.
Although the NHS is currently lagging behind other international healthcare systems, RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker believes that simply working longer hours is not the solution. She supports the notion that forcing GPs to work 11-12 hours a day increases the likelihood of clinical mistakes being made, some of which may be deemed clinical negligence. She adds:
“Few of us would voluntarily board a plane flown by a visibly tired pilot or get on a train where we knew the driver had spent too much time at the controls – yet there are no methods or systems for addressing doctor and staff fatigue in general practice.”
During June 2015 Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt did set out plans for further investment in general practices, including the recruitment of 5,000 new GPs and another 5,000 support staff. He also hinted at the notion of providing financial incentives for GPs to work in the most deprived areas of the country. In a move which has angered members of the British Medical Association however, he also linked these measures to the notion of instituting a seven-day working week, which some fear could exacerbate the strain on doctors, not relieve it.
Dominic Graham, specialist clinical negligence solicitor at Blackwater Law, said:
“In any line of work, when individuals are over-worked and under strain, the quality of decision-making and the ability to maintain a consistently high level of work inevitably decrease, leading to mistakes. Unfortunately, when it comes to healthcare, the impact of mistakes made by over-worked staff is much more significant than for those in other professions.
“The government and NHS bosses recognise there is a shortage of GPs. It is crucial that action is quickly taken to address this so GPs can provide the high level of care they want to be able to deliver and which patients rightly expect.”
If you or a family member has concerns relating to the quality of care you have received from your GP, or if you feel you have been victim of clinical negligence in any form, you can speak to an expert clinical negligence compensation solicitor today at Blackwater Law.
Call 0800 083 5500 to get free initial advice from a specialist medical negligence solicitor.