A UNION which represents the town’s doctors said there is ‘little point’ in seeing through plans to build thousands of new homes in Barnsley over the next decade - unless provisions are in place to boost the amount of GPs available.

The British Medical Association (BMA) say the town’s GPs already face unmanageable workloads without the 21,000 extra homes which are pencilled in up to 2033.

On average, each fully qualified GP in the town is responsible for 2,286 patients, figures show - an increase of more than 200 in recent years.

There are now just 0.44 fully qualified GPs per 1,000 patients - down from 0.52 in 2015 - and no new surgeries are expected to be built in Barnsley in the coming years.

Dr Brian McGregor, chair of the BMA’s Yorkshire branch, said: “A recent article in the Chronicle highlighted the enormous strain GPs are under, with no sign of relief on the horizon.

“NHS South Yorkshire believes the solution to the absence of GPs is expansion of ‘different clinical professionals’ working in a practice - one of those are physician associates (PAs).

“PAs have just two years’ training and while they can be a helpful support to doctors, in many cases they are being used inappropriately and unsupervised.

“That’s either seeing patients and diagnosing illness, something only a fully qualified doctor should be doing.

“As NHS England themselves have said, PAs should not be used to replace GPs.

“This is a major patient safety concern - in February a BMA survey of 19,000 doctors showed that far more doctors found that working with PAs was increasing their workloads, rather than decreasing them.

“There is little point building tens of thousands of new homes in Barnsley if there are no GPs to look after those who will become their patients.”

NHS Digital figures show 119 full-time equivalent, fully-trained GPs were working at surgeries in the borough in November - in line with the year before.

However, the NHS has lost more than 400 individual GP partners and 244 salaried, locum and retainer GPs in the last 12 months.

This has created a net loss of 646 individual GPs since January 2022, leading to a knock-on impact on waiting times at Barnsley Hospital’s A and E as patients seek help elsewhere due to a lack of appointments at GPs.

The South Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) says that it works with local councils to ‘explore opportunities to use any developer funding to improve estate and capacity in general practice’, and will ‘continually explore opportunities to improve or extend premises where appropriate’.

Dr McGregor added: “It’s not complicated - Barnsley needs more GPs now before any population increase.

“The patients know it, the BMA knows it and so does the government.

“It’s what patients need and it’s what doctors want, but it’s the government who doesn’t care.

“Ministers are content to let the family doctor be replaced by non-medically qualified staff, or not replaced at all.”