New “alarming” figures have revealed that there is only one GP for every 2,500apx people in the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Governance Group (BLMK CCG) area, making it one of the worst-hit by GP shortages in the country.
National data compiled by the Liberal Democrats, and based on analysis by the House of Commons Library, looked at all Clinical Governance Authorities in England.
BLMK CCG was ranked at 16th worst, with 2,462 people for every one GP.
The worst-hit area is Fylde and Wyre CCG with 2,833 people for every GP. At the other end of the scale, Liverpool CCG has one GP for every 1,614 people.
The news comes after reports in the Bedford Independent that people are struggling to book an appointment with their GP.
These new figures show an increase of 18% from one GP for every 2,092 people in BLMK five years ago.
The number of GPs employed in the area has also fallen by 12% to just 390 in the same period. BLMK CCG admitted in 2019 that 25% of their GPs would be eligible for retirement over the next five years.
Bedford Borough Liberal Democrats called the figures “alarming” and revealed the “stark postcode lottery” facing GP patients.
“The Conservative government are badly letting down both GPs and patients in Bedford Borough, our residents deserve a fair deal,” said Cllr Dean Crofts (Kingsbrook) Bedford Liberal Democrat spokesperson on health.
“Instead of fixing the GP shortage crisis, the Conservatives are making it worse by failing to train the new doctors we desperately need.”
Investment in GPs announced
But Bedford Borough Conservatives have hit back, highlighting today’s announcement that the government is investing £250 million in a Winter Access Fund to improve GP services nationally and help patients who need urgent care.
This funding can be used to hire more staff, including locum GPs, physiotherapists and podiatrists. But, conditions that GPs must see an increasing number of patients face-to-face to access the funds have also been criticised.
Cllr Crofts says this is “not about pay, but workload” with GP shortages creating “a postcode lottery” and that GPs are “overstretched” with “people left waiting too long for treatment or even an appointment”.
“Families rely on being able to see a GP when they or their children fall sick to get advice, access treatment and get well again,” he added.
“I’m concerned with the diagnoses that will inevitably be missed. The government must invest more in our GP practices and train up more doctors, to ensure patients get the fair deal they deserve.”
But Cllr Roger Rigby (Conservative, Bromham & Biddenham) maintains the Government is doing what it can to mitigate shortages.
“Nationally, since June 2019 there have been 1,200 more full-time GPs employed by the NHS, part of the Government’s commitment for 6,000 new GPs,” said Bedford Conservatives Deputy Group Leader.
“The Government have recruited 10,000 more primary care professionals to work within primary care networks reducing the need for patients to see a GP when another professional can be as supportive,” he said.
Additionally, Cllr Rigby highlights that people are encouraged to visit a pharmacist for minor ailments, rather than visit the doctor’s surgery.
Bedford Borough Conservatives did acknowledge to the Bedford Independent that it is a difficult time locally, but say these latest figures are part of the “Liberal Democrats role to undermine the Government”.
“This is just playing politics,” said Cllr Rigby, “both patients and doctors have had a terrible time through the Covid-19 pandemic and made it so much more difficult for GPs to manage their practices.”