GPs ‘overrun by tsunami of patients’: heads of health hold crisis talks with Matt Hancock as doctors warn they can’t meet massive post-Covid pandemic demand
- Doctors have said they have been given an ‘impracticable’ task because of pent-up demand
- The number of GP visitors increased by 20 percent last month, according to figures
- Since the restrictions began to be relaxed on March 8, there has been a massive increase
Matt Hancock has pledged to improve access to GPs after GPs complained they were overwhelmed.
Doctors say they have been given an ‘impracticable’ task by ministers, with pent-up demand from the pandemic causing a ‘tsunami’ of patients.
According to an analysis of NHS England figures by the Health Foundation, the number of visiting GPs increased by 20 percent last month.
In the first year of the pandemic, 31 million fewer GP appointments were made than usual, as patients delayed visits to doctors for fear of contracting Covid or burdening the NHS.
And since the restrictions began to be relaxed on March 8, there has been a massive rise. That month there were 28.5 million appointments at GP practices. Doctors saw the most patients since the numbers were first recorded.
Matt Hancock has pledged to improve access to GPs after GPs complained they were overwhelmed
Only 54 percent of appointments are now in person, compared to 79 percent two years ago. Campaigners say it is increasingly difficult to see a GP in person, especially elderly patients who are missing something.
Health Minister Mr Hancock told MPs yesterday that he is committed to improving access to GPs so that “everyone who needs care can receive care.”
He added: “This morning I met with the leadership of the British Medical Association GPs to discuss what else we can do to improve access to GPs.”
Two weeks ago, NHS England wrote to GPs that patients should be offered personal appointments if that is their preference, but the move met with some resistance from GP leaders who warned of problems, including a lack of space in operations.
‘I deal with 100 people a day – it’s no surprise that some feel fobbed off’
Ben Allen says his medical workload has become “exponentially more challenging.”
Ben Allen says his medical workload has become “exponentially more challenging” over the past decade.
The 37-year-old Sheffield GP is helping treat up to 100 patients a day and warns that the increased pressure has damaged relationships between doctors and their patients.
He said abuse has become a daily reality because some patients feel fobbed off, but that “most are respectful and understand the challenges we face.”
He added: ‘This situation is not the fault of GPs or patients, many of us cannot do better than us.
‘What we have to achieve has become much greater than just funding and personnel. Most GPs have become doctors because we care. And every day we are powerless to avoid communicating that we don’t. Patients now just feel they are an inconvenience. ‘
Martin Marshall, president of the Royal College of GPs, said what was asked of the appeal could simply be ‘undone’ by staff shortages.
He said three decades ago as a primary care physician, he would see 20 patients a day. It is now expected that GPs will see up to three times as much.
Professor Marshall told BBC Radio 4: ‘If I were a patient I wouldn’t want to see my GP at the end of a 12-hour day and be the 50th or 60th patient they’ve seen.
‘It causes enormous stress. For some GPs, working part-time is the only way they can cope. Others retire early. ‘
He said GP practice entered “crisis mode” because of the added pressure from patients emerging after the pandemic.
He added, ‘Some conditions are things that people stuck with during the pandemic because they didn’t want to burden the NHS and put themselves at risk of infection.
“Other people with a long-term condition would like to see a doctor.”
Doncaster-based primary care physician Dean Eggitt said, “We are almost approaching a tsunami of patients – it feels like the river has flooded the banks.
“It just keeps coming and coming and coming in this one huge, endless wave of patients who are all sick and in need of help and input.
‘They are sick, they are complex and we have very few places to send them. I wouldn’t want to be my patient right now. ‘
The Royal College of GPs is calling on the government to invest to meet a manifesto promise of 6,000 additional GPs by 2024/25.
They’ve only recruited an additional 400 so far, he said.
A spokesperson added: ‘Public attention to the NHS pressure always seems to be focused on hospitals, but we should not ignore the pressure in general practice as it will have serious implications for the wider NHS and the care of our patients . ‘
An NHS official said: ‘GPs have worked hard to secure appointments to those who needed them during the pandemic, with more than 28 million delivered in March this year, in line with pre-pandemic levels, and at the same time as the roll out the largest and fastest vaccination program in NHS history. ‘