Health chiefs hold crisis talks with Matt Hancock as doctors warn they can’t cope with huge demand


GPs ‘are swamped by patients tsunami’: Health chiefs hold crisis talks with Matt Hancock as doctors warn they can’t cope with huge demand following Covid pandemic

  • Doctors have said they have been set an ‘undoable’ task due to pent-up demand 
  • The numbers visiting GPs increased by 20 per cent last month, figures show
  • Since restrictions started to be eased on March 8, there has been a huge surge

Matt Hancock has pledged to improve access to GPs after family doctors complained they were being overwhelmed.

Doctors say they have been set an ‘undoable’ task by ministers, with pent-up demand from the pandemic creating a ‘tsunami’ of patients.

The numbers visiting GPs increased by 20 per cent last month, according to analysis of NHS England figures by the Health Foundation.

In the first year of the pandemic, 31million fewer GP appointments were carried out than normal as patients put off seeing doctors over fears of catching Covid or burdening the NHS.

And since restrictions started to be eased on March 8, there has been a huge surge. That month there were 28.5million appointments at GP surgeries. Doctors saw the most patients since figures were first recorded.

Matt Hancock has pledged to improve access to GPs after family doctors complained they were being overwhelmed

Just 54 per cent of appointments are now in person, compared with 79 per cent two years ago. Campaigners say it is becoming harder to see a GP face to face, with older patients in particular missing out.

Health Secretary Mr Hancock yesterday told MPs he was committed to improving GP access so ‘everybody who needs care can get care’. 

He added: ‘This morning, I met with the British Medical Association GP leadership to talk about what more we can do to strengthen access to GPs.’

Two weeks ago NHS England wrote to GPs saying patients must be offered face-to-face appointments if that is their preference, but the move was met with some opposition from GP leaders who warned of problems including a lack of space in surgeries. 

‘I deal with 100 people a day – it’s no surprise 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’

Ben Allen says his medical workload has become ‘exponentially more challenging’ over the past decade.

The 37-year-old GP from Sheffield helps manage up to 100 patients a day and warns that increased pressures have damaged the 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 understanding of the challenges we face’. 

He added: ‘This situation is neither the fault of GPs or patients, many of us can’t do a better job than we’re doing.

‘What we are expected to achieve has increased far beyond funding and staffing. Most GPs became 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, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said what was being asked of the profession was simply ‘undoable’ as a result of staff shortages.

He said that three decades ago as a GP he would see 20 patients a day. Now GPs are expected to see up to three times that number. 

Professor Marshall told BBC Radio 4: ‘If I was 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’s causing massive stress. For some GPs the only way they can cope is to work part time. Others are retiring early.’ 

He said that general practice was reaching ‘crisis mode’ due to the added pressure of patients coming forward after the pandemic.

He added: ‘Some conditions are things people have held on to throughout the pandemic because they haven’t wanted to burden the NHS and expose themselves to the risk of infection. 

‘Other people with long-term conditions are wanting to come in and see their GPs.’

Doncaster-based family doctor Dean Eggitt said: ‘We have almost a tsunami of patients coming to us – it feels like the river has flooded the banks.

‘It just keeps coming and coming and coming in this one massive, endless wave of patients who all are ill and need help and input.

‘They’re sick, they’re complex and we’ve got very few places to send them. I wouldn’t want to be my patient right now.’

The Royal College of GPs is calling for investment from the Government to meet a manifesto promise of 6,000 more GPs by 2024/25.

They have recruited only an extra 400 so far, it said. 

A spokesman added: ‘Public attention on NHS pressures always seems to focus on hospitals, but we must not ignore the pressures in general practice as this will have dire consequences for the wider NHS and the care of our patients.’

An NHS official said: ‘GPs have worked hard to offer appointments to those who needed them throughout the pandemic with more than 28million delivered in March this year, in line with pre-pandemic levels, at the same time as rolling out the biggest and fastest vaccination programme in NHS history.’  

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