Ethnic minority areas in England face poor GP access: report

In October 2023, areas with a high proportion of ethnic minorities had only 34 fully qualified full-time-equivalent GPs per 100,000 patients

Representational image (iStock)

Pramod Thomas

ACCESS to GPs in England is worse in areas where more ethnic minorities live, according to a recent analysis by The Guardian.

The highest proportion of ethnic minority neighbourhoods have significantly fewer GPs per 100,000 patients compared to areas with a predominantly white British population, the report said.

Experts attribute this gap to an outdated funding model used to allocate resources to GP practices.

In October 2023, areas with a high proportion of ethnic minorities had only 34 fully qualified full-time-equivalent GPs per 100,000 patients, while areas with a predominantly white British population had 48 GPs per 100,000 people.

Adjusting for factors such as age, sex, and health needs, ethnic minority areas still lagged behind, with 37 GPs per 100,000 patients compared to 44 in predominantly white British areas, according to the Guardian’s analysis of NHS Digital and census data.

Professor Miqdad Asaria from the London School of Economics highlighted the impact on health inequalities. Access to primary care is crucial for disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, yet ethnic minority communities face systematic barriers in accessing these services, he said.

According to the report, socio-economic factors such as deprivation and population density exacerbate this inequality. Minority ethnic groups are more likely to reside in deprived and densely populated areas, where socioeconomic poverty adversely affects health outcomes.

Despite higher health needs in these areas, GP practices receive less funding and are understaffed compared to more affluent areas.

Experts criticise the Carr-Hill formula, which determines funding allocation to GP practices, for not adequately addressing the impact of deprivation and ethnicity on health outcomes.

Jake Beech from the Health Foundation emphasised the formula’s failure to account for higher health needs in deprived areas, resulting in underfunding and understaffing.

Beccy Baird from the King’s Fund highlighted the challenges faced by GP practices in deprived areas in meeting quality targets, such as those related to diabetes control, due to greater patient needs and limited resources.

“It is also harder for GP practices in deprived areas to meet the quality targets which they need to meet to receive additional funding (known as QOF), such as how well patients are controlling their diabetes, because their patients may need more support than those in wealthier areas. This means that practices in more deprived areas may not be able to afford as many staff as they need to meet the needs of their patients,” she was quoted as saying.

Further, the analysis revealed that London bears the highest level of inequality, with areas with a higher proportion of ethnic minorities experiencing a 25 per cent lower GP-to-patient ratio compared to areas with fewer ethnic minorities.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care emphasised the government’s commitment to eliminating health disparities and improving access to GPs.

“We are dedicated to improving access to GPs, and we are now delivering 50 million more GP appointments per year compared to 2019,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.

“The most recent data shows GP funding increased in real terms by 19 per cent between 2017-18 and 2021-22, and our primary care recovery plan is investing up to £645m to expand pharmaceutical services and take pressure off general practice.”