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GP APPOINTMENTS: We hear your views as GPs struggle to keep up with demand

 

Chronic underfunding of the NHS and an exhausted workforce means that many of you are struggling to get face to face GP appointments. We’ve been out and about to hear what you had to say on the matter.

Have you struggled to see your GP face to face? What do you think of telephone appointments? We want to know what your experience at your surgery has been like.

A lack of forward planning has led to mounting pressure on GP services, a health commentator has said.

Concerns have been raised over GP access, particularly face-to-face appointments for the elderly or people who have struggled with the “digital first” strategy adopted by many surgeries during the pandemic.

One health expert said that even before the coronavirus crisis, the four nations of the UK had some of the lowest numbers of GPs per population across Europe.

While it takes a number of years for new doctors to train, the population statistics have been available for a number of years, which could easily predict a rise in demand for care, said Jamie Jenkins, former head of health analysis at the Office for National Statistics.

The UK has “one of the lowest numbers of GPs per 1,000 people across Europe”, he said.

Meanwhile, a lot of people had steered clear of seeking help during the pandemic, which has created a backlog.

“It is kind of a perfect storm that we’ve got in the data at the moment,” Mr Jenkins said.

“What we started to see is that fewer people have been coming forward the last year, there’s a huge demand on the health service at the moment, in particular for GPs.”

Asked about how long it takes for doctors to train, Mr Jenkins added: “Well, it takes, you know, numbers of years… you can’t just import doctors as well, it’s not very easy to do that.

“We have an ageing population across most of the developed world and we’re starting to see the impact of this.

“This is probably just some forward planning that’s gone wrong in the NHS, because we’ve known population statistics, we know what the kind of the demand is going to be – why we have not been planning for this for a long time is anybody’s question.”

Mr Jenkins said recent death statistics have shown that deaths have been higher than average for this time of year.

“We’re seeing more non-Covid deaths at the time of year now than before,” he said.

“And that’s alarming, because we could start now be seeing in the data the hidden costs of the pandemic – are we seeing people dying now, because they haven’t come forward over the last year?”

The comments came as the Liberal Democrats released data on the proportion of face-to-face appointments pre and post-pandemic.

After analysing data from the House of Commons Library, the party said that before the pandemic an estimated 80% of GP appointments were face to face.

Now no local health area meets that level. In some areas only 45% of appointments are face to face.

Liberal Democrat health and social care spokesperson, Sal Brinton, said: “GPs have truly gone above and beyond throughout this pandemic, working tirelessly to make sure everyone could contact their GP even when face-to-face appointments couldn’t go ahead.

“Both surgeries and residents are now being let down by a Government that is failing to grapple with rising waiting times and a backlog of people waiting for treatment.

“With data showing GPs under enormous pressure and residents across the country left deserving better, the Government must get a handle on waiting times.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Government has worked extensively with the NHS on how we tackle the backlog caused by the global pandemic, and we have invested £270 million to expand GP capacity, on top of £1.5 billion for extra staff committed for general practices until 2023/24.

“Thanks to the hard work and dedication of GPs and their teams, appointment numbers have returned to pre-pandemic levels, with GPs delivering more than 330 million appointments in the last year.

“Tackling the backlog is a key priority, and we would encourage anyone who needs care or has a health concern to come forward for help.”


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