Issues facing GPs are ‘invisible’ says Sidmouth doctor

Dr Mike Slot

Dr Mike Slot - Credit: Archant

Issues with ‘extraordinary’ numbers of patients calling for on-the-day GP appointments are ‘invisible’ to authorities.

Those are the words of Doctor Mike Slot, from the Sid Valley Practice, who also said if A&E was under the same pressure the national press would be calling for immediate action.

Dr Slot said: “On one Monday we had 132 people ring up for an appointment which equates to seven or eight full surgeries and while we have seven or eight surgeries running we have people that have booked in advance. 130 people ringing for appointments is an extraordinary number but 90 is not unusual. If you have that many people ringing up, it makes it quite hard. Doctors are struggling to get out to do their morning and afternoon visits and get back in time to do all the appointments.

“We didn’t see every single one of those callers – some we were able to help over the phone, some could see the nurse and some we helped by each extending our surgeries by an hour.

“I have spoken to colleagues from different practices and they say the same but when it happens nobody knows about it. The problems we have are invisible. But, if there was a rush of people in A&E, resulting in a four hour wait it would be in all the national papers with the health minister reacting and putting money into resources to try and stop it happening again. One of our jobs is trying to reduce the pressures on secondary care – the acute hospitals – by addressing issues before they can progress.”

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Dr Slot said 90 per cent of first contact takes place in primary care – GP surgeries – but in the overall budget only 8.1 per cent went to primary care. The figure, which excludes drug reimbursements, is down on 9.6 per cent in 2005. He said the total budget had increased, but not at the same pace as demand.

“More resources need to be put into GPs, helping to alleviate the pressure on hospitals and allow the whole of the NHS to work more efficiently, preventing a lot of the work that goes into secondary care by addressing issues earlier,” he said.

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An NHS England and NHS NEW Devon CCG spokesman said: “GPs across Devon work really hard, particularly in winter when demand is at its highest and all the county’s practices are rated either good or outstanding by the CQC.

“As well as the core hours of 8am to 6.30pm, to make it easier for people to get an appointment at a time that suits them, a new system of extended hours is now available so everyone in Devon can access appointments in the evenings and at weekends. More than 600,000 patients in Devon are now also able to benefit from 24-hour online access to their GP practice for non-emergency ailments via the eConsult service.

“As recognised in the NHS Long Term Plan published this month, Devon currently has the second highest proportion of GP appointments by phone, video or online in England.”

The NHS recently released figures revealing nearly three quarters of patients were satisfied with the length of time they waited for GP appointments in the NEW Devon, despite statistics showing that nearly 70,000 patients were waiting at least three weeks.

NHS Digital data shows that 69,750 people in the NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group had to wait until at least 21 days to see a doctor after booking an appointment in October 2018.

According to a 2018 national GP patient survey, 73 per cent of people in the NEW Devon CCG area were satisfied with the appointment times available to them.

The experience of making appointments was ‘good’ according to 78 per cent of respondents.

Waiting times have worsened since November 2017 - the earliest period for which data is available - when 11 per cent of patients waited at least three weeks.

Two in five patients in NEW Devon CCG were able to see a GP the same day the appointment was made.

Experts say the figures include patients who need regular appointments and are likely to be booking ahead.

Rachel Power, The Patients Association chief executive, said: “It can be incredibly stressful to face a long wait before getting to see a doctor, quite apart from prolonging the length of time someone has to live with the medical issue that is troubling them. All of this is a symptom of an NHS running at boiling point all year round.”

Nationally, 10 per cent of patients waited on average at least three weeks to see a GP in October 2018, compared to 9 per cent in November 2017.

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