COMMENT: We need a conclusive diagnosis on GP mergers  

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The findings of a  survey into patients’ views about mergers of GP practices is far from conclusive, and may reflect wider problems affecting all parts of the country.

There is a national shortage of GPs, and NHS budgets are under constant pressure.

Meanwhile as a nation we have grown far more health conscious and aware of the need to keep on top of health checks.

Many patients are finding it difficult to reconcile these facets of a shrinking system of primary health care. 

The chairman of the Royal College of GPs, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard has warned nationally that waiting times for GP appointments are at an ‘all-time high’

She has said: ‘Unfortunately, while workload in general practice is soaring, both in terms of volume and complexity, we are haemorrhaging family doctors from the NHS.’

Two years ago health officials promised to train 5,000 more GPs by 2020. But since then, the workforce has fallen by 1,000.

So while the research carried out by Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group purports to show a mixed picture, anecdotally, and from correspondence to The News letters pages, it seems many people are finding it difficult to make an appointment to see a GP.

Where surgeries have been merged into larger joint practices, this has often been accompanied by a shared telephone switchboard or online booking system, which many find cumbersome and inconvenient to use.

It is sometimes not even possible to make an appointment in person at a surgery because none are available.

It is possible that without mergers, some smaller surgeries might have closed.

We need more data on doctor-to-patient ratios, and the government has a duty to ensure there are enough GPs available to ensure the health of the nation.