Comment: GPs have our sympathy but services are simply not good enough

The verdict delivered by Star readers on the state of GP services across the region should make the powers that be stand up and take note.

Around eight in 10 readers believe services are now far worse than they were before Covid, and two thirds say they have been forced to seek help elsewhere having been unable to see a doctor.

Patients struggle to get through on the phone, and when they do get to speak to someone they often feel fobbed off by the response received.

Face-to-face appointments have become a rarity over the past 18 months. The modern way of working – which appears to centre around the telephone consultation – is an inadequate way of dealing with many patients.

I say this from bitter personal experience, having been prescribed what turned out to be the wrong remedy for my ailment at the end of what felt like a rushed and deeply impersonal appointment-by-phone last year. This has been going on for too long. It is getting worse, and as readers have opined in our survey, there appears to be no end in sight.

While nearly three quarters of respondents blame GP surgeries for the desperate state of current services, it must be pointed out that there is another side to the story. Many GPs are said to be struggling to cope with overwhelming demand and unable to properly do the job effectively.

Their problems did not start with the pandemic. Funding has been slashed over the past decade, while nationally staff numbers shrank by nearly 20 per cent between 2007 and 2019.

Things have only become worse since Covid, which has seen GPs continue to depart the profession, with surgeries serving deprived areas the worst hit. Their lot has been made worse by by the chaos engulfing other areas of the NHS, and there is a genuine fear that opening up surgeries for more face-to-face appointments risks further Covid outbreaks.

GPs understandably feel a little under siege. They often have a thankless task and many do not want to speak on the record. There has been much coverage about difficulties patients have getting hold of their GP surgery. It is the talking point on many neighbourhood online chatrooms. There is much unhappiness out there and individual GPs should not be blamed.

It has been left to two NHS bosses in the West Midlands to write an open letter in their defence. They rightly say the public should be kind to healthcare staff, who have a difficult job to do.

Still, this is an issue that must be addressed. GPs play a vital role in our communities. In recent months they have been pivotal in helping to deliver the vaccine programme, but the public is desperate for them to get back to the day job.

The problem is that a workforce that is already under strain simply cannot cope with the current surge in demand.

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