Frustrated West Midlands patients in plea over GPs

Eight out of 10 patients believe GP services have deteriorated since the Covid pandemic.

And about three quarters say they find it difficult to make an appointment with their doctor.

More than 1,500 people took part in a survey on the state of GP services across the country.

The message given is one of frustration at not always being able to access help from their surgery.

Almost nine in 10 people said they would like to see evening and weekend appointments introduced.

And more than two fifths of those questioned said they had opted to call 111 after failing to get hold of their own GP.

Survey results

A discouraging 92 per cent of people say they do not believe they have a good personal relationship with their doctor and only about a third say they are happy to speak via phone or video call.

The survey comes as the NHS Confederation says the crisis in general practice must be acknowledged and addressed.

It says many surgeries do not have the facilities they need to provide the services they want.

Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation said surgeries “are being hamstrung in their attempts by a lack of investment in buildings and IT equipment.”

Dudley surgery manager Arun Venugopal said GPs across the West Midlands were striving to increase the numbers of patients seen.

Mr Venugopal said: “While we do a mixture of telephone and face-to-face, we’ve tried to encourage our patients to come into the practice more.”

More than three quarters of those questioned in the survey said they found it difficult to access a doctor. Fewer than one in 10 said they had no problems.

And, overwhelmingly, patients believe the situation now is worse than before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, with eight in 10 saying service has deteriorated.

What is clear is that patients continue to have respect for their GP – they just want better access.

Some moves have already been made to extend the hours of surgeries and 87 per cent say they support evening or weekend appointments.

The survey comes as a report raises concerns that the gap between the number of GPs per patient in richer and poorer parts of England is widening.

Analysis by University of Cambridge saw “stark inequalities” in GPs’ distribution,with areas like the Black Country hit. Earlier this year, public satisfaction with GP care, measured by the British Social Attitudes poll, fell to its lowest level since the survey began in 1983.

Appointments back to pre-pandemic levels, but surgeries and patients pleased with levels

Dudley Wood Surgery is typical of practices across the region, searching to get back to a sense of normality after the traumatic experience of Covid.

It has looked at extended hours on certain days and other ways to connect with patients.

Surgery manager Arun Venugopal said there has been an increase in numbers, but is urging more people to come in.

GP Arun Venugopa, from Dudley Wood Surgery

He said: “We’ve increased what we call our face-to-face appointments, as people are coming through the doors more often, and while we do a mixture of telephone and face-to-face, we’ve tried to encourage our patients to come into the practice more.

“That has been more so that they can get the full treatment from the practice and we can help more, as you don’t get those non-verbal cues on a video call or telephone, and we’ve actively encouraged more interactions with patients.

“To be honest, we are at the same level as pre-Covid and have tried to get back to a feeling of normality, so we’ve offered more extended hours appointments, up to 9.15pm, on a Tuesday, and we’re trying to give back to the community.”

Mr Venugopal said the practice was also encouraging people to visit its sister sites at the weekend if they needed more urgent help as part of a partnership across Dudley.

He also said his own GP surgery in Birmingham took longer to arrange appointments, with a four-week wait compared to just two with Dudley Wood, and said the only issue the practice was having was over the long-term use of locum doctors.

He said: “We’ve had to use more locums these days after our senior GP retired and we are facing the prospect of not being able to use long-term locums in the future due to a new IR35 rule, which means we can’t have them in the future.

“Despite this, we are getting a lot of positive feedback from our patients around the treatment they are getting and they are saying that what we do is helping them to be seen quicker.”

Across the region in Sandwell, the Kaleidoscope Plus Group has been working with people suffering from mental health issues. Its communications manager Luke Randle said clients weren’t experiencing major delays with GP appointments.

However, he did say that clients were more likely to struggle with contacting GPs due to worries about their mental health.

He said: “Our clinical lead has said that there are a small number of clients who have said they are experiencing problems with getting GP appointments, although this is more down to them being worried about calling their GP because they are struggling with their emotional health and wellbeing.

“More to the point, they don’t want to appear to be a burden at a time when they are struggling to help, but they’ve not experienced issues with getting an appointment when they’ve asked.”

Mr Randle, who lives in Stourbridge, said he hadn’t experienced any issues himself with booking GP appointments, saying that the worst that might happen is getting an appointment a day later.

He said: “My GP practice have been very accommodating and introduced an online system, which makes it easier to book an appointment for someone like me who works.

“They have worked to make the system more flexible and have increased the number of face-to-face appointments post-Covid, so I do find the process to be good.”

The health body for the region, NHS Black Country Integrated Care Board, has said that while there are some struggles for people looking to get face-to-face appointments, but new ways of working was helping more patients to be seen sooner.

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