ESSEX has some of the highest GP to patient ratios in the country, according to data from the Nuffield Trust.
Thurrock NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), with 2,373 patients per GP – is the third most stretched health area in the country.
Just NHS Portsmouth CCG, which has one GP per 2,462 patients and Hull CCG with one GP per 2,804, are more pressured.
But within the top 20 most stretched CCGs in England, there are 106 in total, an additional four are also in Essex.
Basildon and Brentwood CCG sees 2,185 patients per GP, north east Essex has 2,177 patients per GP, Southend has 2,024 per GP and mid Essex that covers Chelmsford and Maldon has 1,993 per GP.
The issue has been raised by the Lib Dems who are demanding urgent action to deal with growing problems for many people getting appointments.
Chelmsford Lib Dem Deputy Leader, Marie Goldman, said: “I know so many people are struggling to book an appointment with their GP, with services increasingly under pressure from rising demand.
“The Conservative government are badly letting down both GPs and patients in Mid Essex down. Instead of fixing the GP shortage crisis, the Conservatives are making it worse by failing to train the new doctors we desperately need.”
The Lib Dems are calling for more investment in GP services to ensure people can get a doctor’s appointment when they need one.
Councillor Marie Goldman added: “The GP shortage has led to a ‘Postcode Lottery’ – with hard-working doctors overstretched and people left waiting too long for appointments. It needs to change.”
The issue was been raised at an Essex County Council Health Overview and Policy Committee meeting in September which promised to investigate further the problems people are facing.
Maldon Council Vice Chairman Carlie Mayers, who sits on the committee, said: “I feel that this and certainly in Maldon district is a really high priority.
“The number of complaints that we’re getting with people not being able to access any sort of healthcare at any level, whether that is on the phone or face-to-face video calling, is appalling.
“So I very much welcome that to be put onto the work plan.”
Councillor Jaymey McIvor (Cons, Ongar and Rural) said at the same meeting: “In a more general holistic way the digitalization of some of the access to health at the moment I think is causing enormous challenge to, I don’t want to just say to the older population, I think to all ages including my own.”
The Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, have said that GP shortages in England have been widely reported for a number of years.
It says a previous government ambition in 2015 to boost GP numbers by 5,000 by 2020 instead saw the number of GPs fall by 321 full-time equivalents.
It adds there are large differences in the number of GPs between different areas, even when accounting for the needs of the patient population.
While Hull reports the highest number of patients per GP, at 2,804, compared to 1,318 patients per GP in the Wirral, there does also seem to be a worryingly high number of patients in the east of England.
Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, which is made up of hospitals and NHS providers in the south of the county plus the CCGs that commission the services, including Thurrock CCG, Southend CCG, Basildon and Brentwood CCG, mid Essex CCG,and Castle Point and Rochford CCG said other “health professionals” are working to ease the burden off GPs.
An NHS spokesperson for the organisation said: “An increasing number of health professionals are working alongside GPs and play a vital role in delivering high quality, safe and effective care for patients.
“GP practices continue to work tirelessly to respond to a significant growth in demand for their services, whilst ensuring they provide care safely to protect both patients and their staff.
“Our practices are providing face-to-face appointments where requested or clinically appropriate, combined with telephone and online appointments to help make primary care services as accessible to everyone as possible.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to increasing the number of doctors in general practice and between March 2016 and March 2021 the number of full time GPs increased, while a record-breaking number of doctors started training as GPs last year.
“We have invested £270 million to expand GP capacity during the pandemic, on top of £1.5 billion until 2024 and we are making 4,000 training places available for GPs each year, creating an extra 50 million appointments annually to improve patient access.”