This week, the NHS demanded a £10bn urgent injection to cut hospital waiting lists that have risen to record highs.
But the real scandal is happening at GP surgeries across the country. And I don’t think money is the problem.
Waiting rooms are empty, rows of freshly disinfected chairs are without occupants.
Signs on exterior doors say ‘don’t go in without an appointment’ – so the sick stay home and potentially shorten their lives, forced to wait a long time on the phone or try to log in, remember their NHS number, password and navigate a complicated website.
It’s easier for Michael Gove to enter a nightclub without a mask and make a complete ass of himself than it is to meet your local GP in person.
Only a personal conversation with a sympathetic GP who knows your medical history can provide answers. But that service has become extremely difficult to access. (Stock Image)
These highly paid professionals have become the elusive branch of the NHS, aiming to maintain strict health and safety standards for themselves while everyone around them gets back to work and moves on with life with Covid.
Worried that a lump in your armpit or blood in your pee could be cancer? Or has a birthmark become scratchy and changed shape?
It could be nothing, or it could be the big C. Only a personal conversation with a sympathetic GP who knows your medical history can provide answers. But that service has become extremely difficult to access.
Your symptoms may seem trivial, but (due to Covid) we are more attuned to the smallest changes in our health.
But I guarantee that unless you can afford to pay for a private consultation, your stress level will rise dangerously as you embark on the arduous process of getting a GP appointment.
Still, that’s the essential first step to diagnosis and (hopefully) treatment before a cancer becomes useless.
Covid sickened the nation even when we weren’t infected, with a third of the population admitting they suffered from anxiety.
Mental health has become a major concern and now untreated and undiagnosed cancers will cause thousands of people to die before their time.
As a result of the decline in face-to-face GP consultations, the lack of cancer diagnosis means cancer survival rates in the UK have fallen to between ten and fifteen years BEHIND comparable countries.
I had an appointment at the hospital this week and asked my consultant how he was doing. “I’m desperate for a holiday,” he replied, “I haven’t taken any time off at all since the beginning of the year.”
This doctor works on a specialist NHS unit four days a week and sees private patients like me in just one day. He continued with Covid and is appalled at the catastrophic effect the pandemic has had on waiting lists – more than three million people have missed cancer screening appointments because of the virus alone.
NHS patients have now been waiting over a year for an appointment for a huge range of life-changing conditions – which is why I saw him in private.
This doctor believes passionately in the NHS and free care for all, but is outraged by a scandal that no one in government is rushing to face – highly paid GPs who refuse to do their jobs and see patients in person.
He says: ‘Why is it that one bunch of medics – in hospitals – have worked tirelessly through the pandemic and put their lives on the line every day, while another couple – the GPs – get away with calling people and claiming their lives are on the line? on the verge of infection?’
We know GPs are overburdened and the service needs up to 10,000 more practitioners, but is that the real reason why face-to-face appointments are down 40% compared to 2020?
Waiting rooms are empty, rows of freshly disinfected chairs are without occupants. Pictured: An empty physio waiting room in Woodbridge, Suffolk, on July 6, 2021
The NHS survey says it’s our fault – we ‘avoid’ seeing our GPs for fear of contagion. But is that really the truth? (Stock Image)
NHS spending on GP practices has risen 20% over the past decade, and wage increases (the AVERAGE GP salary is a staggering £100,700) means a growing number – around 10% – are now earning enough not to have to work a full week to do .
GPs retire on average at 59 and that age is falling. In addition, GPs in some areas can earn £100 an hour by conducting telephone consultations outside office hours. Nice work if you can get it!
According to the NHS GP patient survey, phone chats now account for about half of all consultations. In some parts of the UK, one in ten people wait THREE WEEKS for an appointment – by phone or in person.
The NHS survey says it’s our fault – we ‘avoid’ seeing our GPs for fear of contagion. But is that really the truth?
By forcing us to talk to them online, GPs are discriminating against some of the most vulnerable people the NHS needs: the physically disabled, people with dementia and the elderly.
And why should people living in crowded homes, with relatives who work from the kitchen or living room, discuss their intimate medical details over the phone?
What about those afflicted with Parkinson’s whose hands tremble, like my late Aunt Vi? Logging in, entering complicated passwords and security questions to access an appointment is an absolute non-starter. And what about the hearing impaired?
I visited an elderly friend last week who can only lip read – a phone call would be completely inappropriate.
During the peak of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, it made perfect sense to have to consult GPs by phone.
We were reluctant to leave the house, and even shopping felt dangerous. The idea of being in an operating room, even far from potentially infected strangers, felt very risky.
The new method of diagnosing patients over the phone or via an online form was dubbed ‘total triage’ by the NHS. It seemed efficient and a good use of the overworked staff. But now that the spike in infections has subsided, remote consultations have become the norm.
We can go to the pub, cinema, theater, our offices, but GP practices are stuck in pandemic mode.
GPs have reconfigured their medical center’s websites, so if you want to make an appointment, you must first describe your condition and then they (receptionist, doctor, nurse?) decide whether you need a phone call or an in-person appointment or a nurse to help.
Total triage favors the GP over the patient – it is convenient and reduces the number of home visits.
We have been reduced to begging, to pleading, rather than the people who pay National Insurance and taxes to fund the NHS, and who (rightly) expect an approachable service in return.
I recently experienced the frustrations of telephone consultation when I was plagued by insect bites that became infested.
According to the NHS GP patient survey, phone chats now account for about half of all consultations
I emailed my local health center and begged for an appointment with a GP. I got a reply saying to ‘shoot the bumps’.
You can imagine my reaction. How do you photograph something on an awkwardly placed body part? And how can a photo show a lump that you need to feel?
There are plenty of examples of patients trying to contact doctors with minor problems that turn out to be cancer. I understand, I was treated a year ago for a basal cell carcinoma on my nose, a tumor so small I could barely see it. It certainly wouldn’t have appeared on a phone!
Pharmacists tell me that they regularly hear about a misdiagnosis over the phone. A local man was fobbed off with acid-blocking tablets, and he was found to have had a ruptured appendix and nearly died.
A Hull grandmother nearly died of undiagnosed cancer earlier this year after being given anti-acid medication over the phone.
She is just one of hundreds of sick people who were given the wrong advice over the phone because there was no GP.
Older people are often reluctant to ‘burden’ the doctor – especially as they recognize that Covid has put a huge strain on services – but these are exactly the customers GPs should see to check there are no other underlying medical problems the patient might have. may not have been aware.
GPs are brilliant at sensing what could be the real problem behind our initial concerns.
Doctors have done very well in recent years – they have received extra payments for Covid shots, flu shots and they will get extra money for booster shots. We appreciate them very much and rightly so.
But the time has come for the government and NHS bosses to insist that face-to-face GP consultations must be prioritized and readily available, not dangling out of reach like a prize that requires a shovel of freight crawling to win .