Friday, 30 July 2021

Henley GPs in crisis

DOCTORS in Henley have admitted to being so overstretched that it could put patient safety at risk.

DOCTORS in Henley have admitted to being so overstretched that it could put patient safety at risk.

In an email to patients entitled “GPs in crisis”, the doctors at the Hart Surgery apologised to those who had experienced difficulty in getting an appointment and urged them to complain to their MP.

The doctors blamed an increasing workload, a staff shortage and a cut of Government funding. They said it was becoming “increasingly difficult” to maintain a high standard of patient care and access on a “shoestring”.

It is understood that some patients have had to wait weeks to see their own doctor.

The email, which was sent on Monday, was signed by senior partner Dr Philip Unwin and doctors Clare Alsop, Michelle Brennan, Mark Bish, Michael Hillier and Amanda Gemmill as well as practice manager Sarah Moberly.

It said: “We are writing to apologise to those of you who have had difficulty in getting an appointment recently. We have had two doctors off, one of whom has been looking after her daughter after a serious operation.

“Despite our very best efforts we have been unable to secure adequate locum cover and our resources have been overstretched.

“We understand that this is an increasingly common problem throughout the country and reflects the current GP recruitment crisis. On a typical day a GP might see up to 50 patients face-to-face, respond to up to 20 patient telephone queries and answer a similar number of emails.

“On top of that they make home visits and visits to nursing homes, attend meetings and training updates and work through an extraordinary amount of paperwork which includes post-consultation follow-up, scrutinising incoming clinical letters, reviewing lab test results and checking and signing prescriptions. A simple mistake with any one of these could kill someone and end a career.

“For this the Government funding is approximately £136 per patient per annum and some of that is only accessible if certain targets are met. This sum also has to stretch to pay for all the surgery’s staff salaries and the usual costs associated with running a business.

“Despite the largest increase in volume of care in any part of the NHS, funding to GPs has seen a year-on-year reduction since 2004. This £136 provides patients with unlimited access to their GP and nurses for the year.

“In the past year over 118,000 doctor and nurse appointments were offered to Hart patients equating to over 11 consultations per patient per annum — approximately half of these were with a doctor. This works out at extraordinary value for money for patients but it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a high standard of patient care and access on such a shoestring budget. “It is most frustrating for all of us and the workload — for both clinical and back office staff — has increased steadily and is getting to a level at which it is beginning to feel unsafe.

“On top of this is the Government’s agenda for a seven-day NHS, more face-to-face consultations, more email consultations and with the introduction of Care Quality Commission inspections, more paperwork and bureaucracy. Without increased investment in primary care, this model is not sustainable. GPs are exhausted and demoralised and recent surveys show that many are thinking about leaving and it is already becoming difficult to recruit new GPs.”

Dr Unwin told the Henley Standard that the delays experienced by the Hart Surgery’s patients were for routine appointments only and the email was prompted by three letters of complaint about waiting times.

“It had been getting worse over the last month or so,” said Dr Unwin. “We wanted to make sure our patients were aware of the facts and that we were trying to do something about it. We’re doing everything to make sure the service runs and keeps going.”

Dr Gemmill took time off as her two-year-old daughter suffers from spina bifida and had undergone surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. She returned to work in mid-February.

She said: “There a huge crisis in general practice and the medical profession as a whole. Recruiting is at an all-time low, consultation levels are at an all-time high.

“With a decreasing budget we’re trying to provide an increasing service. It’s not just a problem at the Hart or locally, it’s a nationwide problem.”

Dr Unwin said: “Just having one doctor missing for four weeks made us realise just how fragile the situation is.

“If you work 12 hours a day you’re going to get tired but we constantly watch each other. A lot of people have written back and said ‘we had no idea it was bad as it is’.”

Patient Peter Ward, 72, of King James Way, Henley, was told the earliest date for an appointment to see his doctor was four-and-half weeks later. He was able to see another doctor days later due to a cancelled appointment.

He said: “There’s a considerable amount of frustration on their part that they can’t provide a level of service to their patients that they would like.”

* What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email

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