Becoming ill and having to see a doctor is a predictable part of life. It’s something everyone will do, regardless of how strong or weak their health may be. So, it would be safe to assume that GP surgeries will always be there to help us. Right? Wrong. In the last six years, the UK has seen 583 surgeries close and a significant number merge into ‘hubs’. These hubs consist of partner surgeries, sharing the workload and patients. The irony is, since this change my patience has been tested considerably. And I can honestly say I’m not impressed.
The state of GP surgeries in the UK
Unfortunately, I’m somebody who is prone to falling ill and suffers from pre-existing health issues. When I need to see my doctor, I have to call two weeks in advance and wait on hold for 30 minutes. When my call is finally answered, I may only get a phone appointment or be sent to another surgery, within the hub. Often this designated surgery is a 15-20 minute drive. My annoyance grows further when I receive incorrect test results via the receptionist or through an impersonal text message.
On Sunday I took it upon myself to try a different approach. I tried out the new E-consult system my surgery has in place. It was helpful and I accomplished what I set out to do. But I still find myself questioning the reasoning behind this. Why is it so hard to get help from a GP? Are measures such as the E-consult necessary?
Decline GP training
In recent years, the UK has seen a significant increase of graduates finishing medical school. In 2017 there were 60,810 training doctors. However, only 11,051 of these opted to go into general practise. This is despite plans made by the department of health and social care, stating:
‘We are committed to meeting our objective of recruiting an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020’.
Like most of the NHS, GPs are struggling. Forced to work longer hours to deal with the increased demand, in return they are met with bureaucracy and paperwork whilst also having to cope with insufficient resources.
I’ve allowed myself to get so irritated when calling the GP that I forget about the doctors. I forget that they are people just doing their job. And I do understand the pressure. Most industries are struggling. So it’s hardly surprising that so many GPs are only working part time or even leaving the profession altogether.
The GP shortage in England does concern me. GPs were always my first port of call if I needed medical attention. And I always felt more at ease once I’d consulted my local doctor. It was comforting knowing I was seeing a doctor who knew me and my medical history. But now, like many others, I’m forced to relay everything over and over again. Appointments only last ten minutes, and I’ll see a doctor I’ve never met before and who I’ll probably never see again. It’s exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve not got a life-threatening illness and I’m young. But limiting GP surgeries and opening times, is asking for trouble — whether they’re under pressure or not. Ultimately, it could be the most vulnerable that will have to deal with the consequences of these changes, and that’s a risk surgeries shouldn’t take.