AN MSP says family doctors are busier than ever with some “bursting at the seams” and want patients to be helped to seek help elsewhere.
Graham Simpson surveyed GPs across his Central Scotland region to ask how they were coping during the pandemic and he then followed it up with visits.
He said: “Surgeries are open and people can get to see a doctor if they need to but the system is very different to how it used to be.
“You may be advised to go to a pharmacy or to self-refer to certain services.
“Doctors will phone you in the first instance – that’s very different to before – and then, if you need to be seen face-to-face you will be.
“It is taking a lot of getting used to. The practices that I spoke to are busier than ever now. In one case the waiting list just for a phone call is five weeks, though if it’s urgent you will be seen that day.
“That same practice is short of GPs and can’t find replacements. It’s not good enough.
“What was also clear is there are different ways of getting health advice and help but patients don’t know where to look.
“In my view health boards should be doing more to signpost people, or helping practices to provide clear and consistent advice.”
The survey was distributed to GP Practice Managers across the region covering NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Forth Valley, and I received 31 responses.
There were several trends across the responses. On a positive note, 23 surgeries reported that missed appointments have decreased since the pandemic, with six increasing and two having no change.
However, only six surgeries had not received any complaints about patients being unable to see a GP with the remaining 25 having received such complaints.
29 of the 31 respondents feel that patients are relying on GP services when they could find solutions elsewhere, such as a community pharmacist or by calling 111. Two respondents did not think this.
100% of responses believe there is a role for the Scottish Parliament to play in improving the patient experience at a GP Practice level.
There was a clear message that patients don’t always need to see a GP and that better messaging from the Scottish Government about where to go for different ailments needs to be prioritised.
“General Practice is bursting at the seams, I am seriously concerned about the mental health of the GP's in the Practice who are under incredible stress with little or no understanding from either Government or patients.”
“We need a sustained marketing campaign across Scotland to try to change the patients' mindset... There are lots of alternatives which are more appropriate and where patients could actually be seen more quickly. Unfortunately, everyone seems to think that the GP is the only place to go to which means that patients who really need to see a GP… have to wait longer for an appointment.”
“There seems to be a misconception amongst the public that GP surgeries closed during the pandemic, and that we are still not fully functioning at this time. It is causing strain and pressure for our staff in dealing with inappropriate behaviour from patients- including verbal abuse, threatening language and blackmail.”
“Media campaign to alert not everything has to come through the GP.”
“I think there needs to be a push on patient education... The sheer amount of calls we get each day for things that can be dealt with elsewhere is enormous. I know that my practice gets a lot of push back when we try to signpost to other services such as pharmacy and opticians. I regularly receive complaints that we are neglecting our duty of care and passing work elsewhere that we can't be bothered dealing with ourselves. This is obviously not the case at all but patients don't know that there are other, more appropriate options available to them.”