Shock and anger has been expressed at the revelation that Horsham and Mid Sussex are among the worst areas in the country for GP access.
A BBC analysis has shown that there is only one GP for every 2,997 people in the local area, second only to Swale in Kent which has 3,342.
Now local Liberal Democrats say they are shocked and angry and are calling for a meeting with Horsham MP Jeremy Quin and West Sussex County Council to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, Horsham and Mid Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group - which covers Horsham, Burgess Hill, East Grinstead, Haywards Heath and the surrounding areas and is responsible for paying for local health services - says it is currently working closely with local GP practices to develop new ways of working to meet growing demand. They say that local GP practices “ensure appointments are available daily, with urgent cases taking priority. From October last year all also offer registered patients access to both routine and urgent appointments at evenings and weekends.”
However, Royal College of General Practitioners’ chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has called the differences in the number of GPs ‘shocking’ and says she believes the health service in England is 6,000 doctors short of what it needs - and the problem meant care was ‘not safe’ in some places.
Dr David Skipp, Liberal Democrat leader on Horsham District Council, and a former Horsham GP, said: ”Much of the problem relates to poor planning at national and regional level over many years.
“Whilst the NHS has many pressures, this particular problem is caused by a shortage of trained GPs and the failure of NHS England and the CCG to provide new GP premises.
“Despite a great deal of tinkering with the NHS, successive governments (of whatever colour) have failed to put in place a long term strategy for provisioning the NHS. We are now reaping the failures of the last 20 years, and although NHS England is now attempting to recruit more GPs, it takes time to train them.
“The UK population has been rising for many years, as many people live into their 80s and 90s, and mortality in younger age groups decreases due to medical advances, reduced levels of smoking, safer roads and many other advances. “However, the need for NHS services is rising in areas with high numbers of frail older people. A rise in diseases linked to obesity such as diabetes, mental health problems, and more children also bring pressures. Our area has a higher population of older people, and their demands on GP time can be high. There is also increased public demand for medical services.
“Many new houses have been built in both Horsham and Mid Sussex. The resultant rise in population is mirrored by the increase in demand for General Practitioner services. NHS England and the local CCG have failed to provide new practices and additional GPs. This has resulted in greater pressure on the existing services, so more GPs have taken early retirement, thus creating even more pressure.
“The NHS must recognise that there is inequality of access to GPS and encourage health staff to move into the area. When local GP practices recruit, potential staff may be deterred by high housing costs and inadequate places for their families in the most popular schools. This can only be addressed by developing a long term strategy to ‘invest in people’ by providing more affordable housing, in particular allocating housing for key workers, and additional school places.
“When considering housing levels and population increase, new housing should guarantee new surgeries or health centres in the area.
“Finally, the Government needs to look again at nurse recruitment and reward, as having nurse-practitioners in GP practices helps to extend the reach of the GPs we do have. Nurse training has been badly affected by the removal of bursaries. Nurses in training do not get long holidays as most students do; so they are financially penalised by the removal of the bursaries, becoming a free pair of hands on the ward.”