GPs face ‘tsunami’ of patients with 28 million appointments booked in March as people return to NHS as Covid lockdown in England eased
- In March there were more than five million more GP visits than in February, up to 28 million
- Doctors say there are no longer highs and lows, but constant ‘peak’ numbers
- People are returning to the NHS after avoiding it during the Covid crisis
- The emergency department is also filling up again now that the corona virus is disappearing
GPs say they are dealing with a ‘tsunami’ of patients returning to appointments as England’s Covid crisis fades.
More than 28 million people booked GP appointments in March, making it one of the busiest months on record BBC reported.
That number was five million more than in February – a sudden peak of 20 percent.
And doctors say they don’t see highs and lows in patient flows year-round, and instead, it’s like they’re in constant crisis.
Dr. Dean Eggitt, a family doctor in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, told the broadcaster, “The ability to catch up has disappeared. That was before Covid. Then Covid hit and it’s just peak, peak, peak, peak all the time. ‘
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, people avoided the NHS – after being advised to do so, except in first wave emergencies – and officials fear many have developed serious illnesses such as cancer and have not been controlled.
The number of people dying at home rose to above-average levels, while non-Covid hospital deaths were less common, suggesting that people are missing out on medical care at the end of their lives.
A&E visits plummeted while the virus was circulating, but they’ve risen again recently as the “ concerned source ” returned to hospital emergency rooms.
GPs saw their patients’ workload increase even before the Covid pandemic, they say, and now there are those booking appointments that should have been treated months ago but avoided because of the pandemic (stock image)
Dr. Eggitt told me BBC: ‘There is almost a tsunami of patients coming to us. It feels like the river has flooded the banks.
‘I see it will never end. It just keeps coming and coming and coming in this one huge endless wave of patients. ‘
An analysis of the Health Foundation’s NHS data found that between April 2020 and March 2021, there were about 31 million fewer general practice appointments than in the previous year – 279 million compared to 310 million.
This was probably not due to the fact that fewer people were sick, but that fewer people went to their GP, which means that millions of people have gone without the care they normally would have had.
As a result, the patients who come to an appointment now are sicker than they would have been if they had seen a doctor six months ago.
This creates more work for the NHS and means that people suffer more and, in the case of diseases such as cancer or heart disease, are less likely to survive.
GPs have been warning for years that they don’t have enough staff to cope with rising patients, which was already a problem before the pandemic.
People living longer after increasingly unhealthy lifestyles – eating more junk food and exercising less – means that many in middle and old age have long-term illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, that require regular treatment for years or decades.
The King’s Fund NHS think tank estimates that the health service is short of about 2,500 full-time GPs and warns that this could rise to 7,000 if more retire in the coming years.
Professor Martin Marshall, President of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The GP practice was already dealing with an intensive workforce and high workload – the pandemic has only exacerbated these.
“We urgently need more GPs and other members of the exercise team.”
Medics have also warned that the “concerned source” is returning to emergency departments and that pressure on the emergency department is mounting.
NHS Providers Union chief Chris Hopson said on Times Radio yesterday, “Accident and emergency departments across the country are getting busier.
‘There are a number of reasons for this. There are people who didn’t actually come forward, but who do come forward now; there are those who are again what we would describe as the troubled well; there are people who fear they have a disease like Covid-19.
“Interestingly, in the Covid-19 areas where there are high levels of the variant that comes from India, there are people who are concerned about whether they have Covid-19, so they go to the hospital.”