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U.K. Health Service Faces `Looming Crisis' Over Family Doctors

  • Parliamentary committee says recruitment must be stepped up
  • Patients are finding it more difficult to make appointments

The state-run National Health Service in England faces a “looming crisis” with not enough family doctors available to meet growing demand, a panel of U.K. lawmakers warned.

General practitioners, as they’re known in the U.K., are the first port of call for people seeking medical help in the NHS. However, the Department of Health and NHS England “appear to have been complacent about general practice’s ability to cope with the increase in demand caused by rising public expectations and the needs of an aging population, many of whom have multiple health conditions,” the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said in a statement accompanying a report published Wednesday.

More GPs are leaving the profession, particularly older, experienced doctors, the cross-party panel said. Meanwhile, not enough new GPs are being trained and 12 percent of training places were left unfilled last year. Patients’ ability to get appointments has “gradually but consistently declined in recent years,” according to the panel, which called on the government to set out by December how it plans to get 5,000 more doctors working as GPs.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has spared the NHS from cuts applied to other state spending and has pledged to increase funding until 2020. Still, the service, Europe’s biggest employer, is stretched and junior hospital doctors in England are striking again Wednesday over a new contract imposed on them by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run their health services independently.