What is General Practice and why is it so important to our healthcare system?

General Practice is the most common form of primary care in the NHS.  General Practitioners (GPs), known as ‘family doctors’ in the US, provide the first point of call for non-emergency cases and act to provide primary care to the community.

99% of people in the UK are registered with a GP and 70% will have visited the GP within the last 6 months.  There are 35,000 GPs in the UK who work in just under 10,000 practices.  Mostly these are in small teams with other healthcare professionals and healthcare support staff.

The role of a general practitioner includes providing preventative care and health education to their community, with both a public health perspective (looking after the population), and an individual perspective (looking after the patient). Most diagnoses (90%) are made through good communication and discussion of symptoms between the patient and the doctor without the need for any interventions or tests.

Doctors are some of the most trusted individuals in society with 88% of the population inherently trusting doctors compared to 81% teachers, 29% bankers and 18% politicians.

Doctors in GP surgeries deal with patients’ health needs throughout their lives from antenatal care to palliative care and death.  This scope means they are essential to ensuring long term health and managing chronic illness.  GPs are generally the first port of call for advice and counselling about a medical condition or unusual symptoms.  Furthermore GPs are responsible for maintaining the health of the population as a whole of the community they serve.  This involves immunising children to create herd-immunity in the population and performing some screening procedures.

General Practice is one of the quickest specialities to become qualified in with 10 years of training from the start of medical school. This involves 5 years of medical school, 2 years of foundation training and 3 years of speciality training. Qualified GPs generally become either partners of practices or salaried GPs and can be full-time or part-time.  Further to GP training, special interests can be expanded with opportunities to become involved in education and the treatment specific conditions.

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