GP leaders are warning that patients will be facing longer waiting times this winter, because of a funding gap that has now reached about £10.2 billion and does not seem to be slowing in growth.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) says its research has found that funds have been diverted away from primary care towards hospitals over the last eight years.

This means that general practice is now getting around £2.4 billion less a year than if its cash stream had kept pace with that of secondary care, leaving a gap of £9 billion in England, £925 million in Scotland, and £250 million in Wales.

The drift in funds, says RCGP Chair Maureen Baker, "is a deep-seated and long-term trend which is starving general practice of the money", and this, she stresses, "is bad news for patients and bad news for the whole of the NHS".

"If waiting times become longer, this will make it more difficult for GPs to ensure that problems are caught early, and risks intensifying pressure on already overstretched A&Es", Baker warned, and called on the government to "take urgent action to pump more resources into general practice so that family doctors can treat patients in the community, thereby taking the pressure off hospitals."

Put patient first

The funding decline has prompted the RCGP and the National Association for Patient Participation to launch the Put patients first: Back general practice campaign, calling for 11% of the overall NHS budget by 2017 to enable the provision of shorter waiting times for appointments, more flexible opening hours, and overall better continuity of care.

Back in August the College requested an injection of emergency funds to help GPs address better cope with spiralling workloads and dwindling resources, amid fears that the profession is reaching breaking point and following and emergency cash injection of £250 million this year into A&E.

The government promised an extra £150 million to A&E just days ago, and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this week that around two and a half thousand extra beds will be made available across England and the equivalent of nearly 3,000 extra staff will be brought in to help the NHS cope with winter pressures.