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GP surgeries in Islington braced for loss of GPs

Retirements and flight from soaring property market is leaving vacancies

24 May, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Dr John McGrath: ‘I see 30 to 40 patients day to day’

GPs have warned that “significant” numbers are planning to retire in the next few years or move out of Islington because of unaffordable house prices.

A recent survey by the Local Medical Committee, the body which represents individual GPs, found that two out of three GP surgeries had a vacancy for a doctor while a third said they had a doctor planning to retire in the next three years.

Dr John McGrath, 35, a doctor at Andover Medical Centre, who lives off Essex Road, said that “GPs cannot afford to live or buy in Islington”, especially when they have children.

He told the Tribune: “With a two-year-old son, we are at the limit of how long we can stay in our flat.”

With fewer GPs working in the borough’s surgeries, the remaining doctors were dealing with a larger number of patients, he warned.

“I’ve lived and worked in Islington for 10 years, including in the A&E at University College Hospital and at the Whittington. I’ve never seen GPs work harder than they do currently. The volume and intensity are the highest I’ve seen,” he said.

A “typical” day would see him working 12 to 14 hours, he said. “I see 30 to 40 patients day to day. But analysing results and reviewing clinical letters mean I am doing work for 60 to 80 patients.”

He said that Islington had its own “particular challenges”, with a rising population and ageing demographic. The annual public health report, released by the Town Hall earlier this year, said there was a predicted 60 per cent increase in the number of adults over the age of 65 in the borough in the next 15 years.

Dr McGrath said the 10-minute slot allocated to see patients was a “huge problem”.

“We are expected to see people with complicated medical, psychological and social problems within 10 minutes, despite knowing the average [consultation] is 14 minutes,” he said. “Realistically, it should be 20 minutes per patient.

“We do it because they [GPs and patients] value access to GPs as the cornerstone of the NHS. Whether it’s realistic I think is a huge question that needs to be discussed.”

He warned that a large number of surgery buildings were no longer suitable.

“At my practice, the service and building haven’t changed but we’ve had 1,000 extra patients in the past year, over 2,500 in the last two years,” he said. “We have extra GPs but we are in the same building, same consulting rooms. We don’t have ability to expand.”

A Town Hall executive committee for health passed a motion promoting the creation of “integrated networks of GP surgeries” at a meeting earlier this month. It acknowledged “the fact that a significant number of GPs in the borough will be retiring in the next 10 years”.

The new system will see the creation of a network of healthcare professionals, including GPs, pharmacists and physiotherapists, to cater for the needs of 30,000 to 50,000 patients in one area. It is planned to be rolled out throughout the country by 2021.

Dr McGrath welcomed these networks, but added: “They should not distract from the need for more actual GPs.”

Analysis from health think-tank the Nuffield Trust, released earlier this month, said that GPs throughout the country had an average of 125 more patients in their care compared to five years ago.

A spokesman for Islington’s Clinical Commissioning Group, which plans and allocates funds for primary care, said: “Through close links with our member practices and Islington GP Federation, we are working to increase access to general practice and extended services in the community.

“By strengthening relationships with our providers we continue to integrate the borough’s health and care services, ensuring that they can be easily navigated by our population.

“To help prevent problems developing, work is under way with our local authority colleagues to strengthen our combined approach. We continue to work with a range of partners, including local universities and Health Education England to grow the opportunities to attract, train and retain Islington’s health and social care workforce.”


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