The effects of shifts in the balance of care on general practice workload.
Scott A., Wordsworth S.
BACKGROUND: The consequences of the move towards a primary-care-led NHS are shifts in activity from secondary care to primary care and more involvement of GPs in purchasing decisions. Although there are many anecdotal reports of an increasing primary care workload, there is little empirical evidence on the extent of such shifts. This paper reports the results of a survey of GPs in Grampian, in the north-east of Scotland, in which we attempted to gather information on the effects of shifts in the balance of care on general practice. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to examine GPs perceptions of the extent to which general practice workload has changed due to planned and unplanned shifts in the balance of care. METHODS: The design of the study was a self-reported questionnaire, which was administered in general practices in the Grampian Health Board, Scotland. The subjects were senior partners of all general practices and the main outcome measures were the types of changes which have taken place in general practice, their source, their effect on practice workload and how practices have reacted. RESULTS: A 60% response rate was achieved (52/86); 85% (44/52) of GPs claimed that their workload had increased due to shifts in the balance of care and that 72% of the shifts were initiated outside the practice. Geriatric care, early discharge and psychiatric and psychology services, as well as nursing home care, were reported to have had the greatest impact on workload. The main aspects of practice workload which had increased included the number of GP consultations, general stress at work and number of home visits, whereas the net income of the practice and health outcome of patients were reported to have decreased. Practices have dealt with the increase in workload by shifting tasks from GPs to nurses and absorbing the workload into existing practices/patterns. Responders reported that ideally more nursing and GP staffing would be required. Overall, GPs welcomed the shifts in the balance of care, were more concerned about poor communication rather than actual increases in workload and claimed that morale had fallen. CONCLUSION: GPs perceive that the move towards a primary-care-led NHS is increasing the workload in general practice. If the shift in the balance of care away from secondary care is to be successful, then more information is required about such shifts to support practices as change continues.