Trust me, I’m your doctor: are GPs in crisis?

Battle of Ideas festival 2022, Sunday 16 October, Church House, London


In the wake of the pandemic, many people have expressed frustration about waiting times and the lack of face-to-face appointments with GPs. At the same time, doctors have threatened strike action over new contracts stipulating longer opening times to catch up with the backlog. In some areas of the country, there is just one GP for every 2,500 patients, yet in other places, doctors have demanded legal limits on the number of patients they see.

The suspicion in some quarters is that GPs are being lazy, or have lost their sense of vocation. Anecdotes about patients waiting hours to be fobbed off with a hurried telephone call from a GP are commonplace. But the Royal College of General Practitioners has pushed back, claiming that this suggestion is false and is undermining GP morale, which was already low. Several surveys indicate the NHS faces an exodus of experienced GPs, with many taking early retirement or reducing their hours due to workload pressure. Even increases in trainee doctors will not relieve the strain.

It seems that GPs are working harder than ever and yet people still can’t get the appointments they need. Is this predominantly due to the increased pressures caused by the pandemic, or are government critics right to suggest that the NHS has been underfunded for decades? Do we need to do more to incentivise more doctors to become GPs or is the GP as the first port of call for healthcare now outmoded? And is the solution to this perhaps bigger than intermittent injections of cash? Has the pandemic caused a crisis in GP provision or led to patient anxieties being exacerbated – or both? What is causing this crisis in trust for our once-beloved family doctors?

Professor Dame Clare Gerada
London-based GP; president, Royal College of General Practitioners

Sheila Lewis
retired management consultant; patient member, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

Allison Pearson
columnist and chief interviewer, Daily Telegraph; co-presenter, Planet Normal podcast

Jo Phillips
journalist; co-author, Why Vote? and Why Join a Trade Union?; former political advisor; fellow, Radix

Charlotte Pickles
director, Reform; former managing editor, UnHerd; member, Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) and the NHS Assembly

Tony Gilland
teacher of maths and economics; Associate Fellow, Academy of Ideas