There are now more than 1,600 patients for every GP in Bolton after numbers of doctors fell over the last year.

The latest figures show that there are now the equivalent of just 207 full time GPs in the whole borough of Bolton as of this year, falling from 219 last year.

This has left people struggling to access services in many cases, with the youngest and oldest age groups baring the brunt of this pressure.

Bolton and District Pensioners Association secretary Bernie Gallagher said: “I think every single person, whether in our group or not is getting a poor service.”

She added: “We’ve been campaigning for better access to GPs but recently our campaign has shifted slightly to emphasising concerns about physician associates who are replacing GPs.”

Every GP in Bolton is now responsible for more than 1,600 patientsEvery GP in Bolton is now responsible for more than 1,600 patients (Image: Newsquest)

Physician associates are trained to provide care, under the supervision of a doctor, but do not have the same qualifications as a general practitioner. 

The House of Commons Library figures based on NHS digital show that as of April this year of the 207 full time equivalent GPs, 139 were fully qualified while the rest were still in training.

The fall in GP numbers across Bolton, even by just 12 full time equivalents GPs compared to last year, has meant a sharp rise in the average number of patients seen by every doctor.

In April last year every Bolton GP was responsible for an average of 1,483 patients, which had shot up to an average of 1,602 patients this year.

But access to GP surgeries has been a long running concern for people all across Bolton, especially for people in older age groups.

In October 2022 the Pensioners Association held a public meeting to address what the called the “crisis” in GP services.

The meeting was addressed by expert speakers including Professor Nameez Esmail, who had worked across deprived inner-city areas in Manchester.

He said at the time that he believed his profession had been hit badly by under funding in recent years.

The Bolton and District Pensioners Association has campaigned for better access to GP servicesThe Bolton and District Pensioners Association has campaigned for better access to GP services (Image: Newsquest)

Addressing the meeting at the time, Prof Esmail said he believed it was vital for groups like the Bolton and District Pensioners Association to continue raising the issue.

But he also offered an insight into how GPs all across the country tend to focus their time and which groups in particular they spend the most time tending to.

Mrs Gallagher said: “He was saying that the overwhelming majority of their time is spent with the under fives and the over 70s.

“So you need to know the demographics of those 1,600 people and particularly the issues people in the middle of those two age groups are going through.”

But she said that the overwhelming experience reported by members of the Pensioners Association had been one of declining services.

Mrs Gallagher said: “The thing about our demographic is that they remember something better.”

She added: “They’ve all noticed a decline, nobody could say there’s been an improvement.”

Bolton Council cabinet member for adults, health and wellbeing Cllr Sean Fielding says the situation has been worsened by the government’s funding decisions.

In particular the GP profession has been rocked by the government’s GP contract, which offered a general medical service baseline funding uplift of just 1.9 per cent.

Cllr Fielding said: “Like so many public service professions, being an NHS GP has been made less attractive by decisions taken by this government.

“The government's imposition of a GP contract without the funding to keep pace with inflation is the latest example of this.

"It is driving GPs out of providing NHS services and means that those who remain can pick and choose which areas they work in.

“In this scenario, inevitably GPs will choose healthier and lower-demand areas, which many parts of Bolton are not.”

Labour’s Cllr Fielding, who also sits on the Bolton Locality Board, which oversees health and social care across the borough, said this was reflected in other public services.

He said: “This government has chronically underfunded so many public services these last fourteen years causing low morale and high turnover of not just GPs but teachers, police officers, nurses and many other public sector roles.

“They need to go, and hopefully they will be replaced next month.”

But Conservative politicians have said they hope a range of measures they have planned will help improve access to GP services.

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Health Secretary Victoria Atkins says that her party’s bid to boost community care will come as part of a package of reforms aimed at making the NHS “faster, simpler and fairer.”

The Conservatives also say that they are planning to expand Pharmacy First, which was launched in England in January.

This allows patients to be treated for seven common conditions at their local pharmacy without the need for a GP appointment or prescription.

They say that they believe the scheme, once fully scaled, will free up 20 million GP appointments in total all across the country.

Their plan also involves building 100 new GP surgeries and modernising 150 more, particularly in those areas experiencing new housing developments.