Huge drop in GP appointments sparks fears for patients’ health

Doctors are concerned patients are not seeking medical help when they need it.

Doctors are concerned patients are not seeking medical help when they need it. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Doctors fear people are not seeking help for medical conditions due to a huge drop in GP appointments in North Somerset.

More than 150,000 fewer GP appointments were recorded in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire in April, leading to concerns people are putting off trips to the doctor.

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has urged patients to seek help if they need it, and said surgeries must have adequate resources to cope with a predicted increase in demand as the lockdown eases.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the RCGP, said people may be worried about overburdening NHS services during the coronavirus crisis, or contracting the virus themselves.

He said: “However, if anyone is seriously ill or concerned about their health, we’d strongly urge them to contact their GP practice or 111 – and in an emergency situation, call 999.

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“The reality is unmanaged or untreated conditions may not go away and may get worse and this could cause serious consequences.”

He added: “General practice must be adequately resourced to deal with the predicted increase in demand as GPs care for patients who may have put off symptoms during the peak of Covid-19, outpatients managing Covid-19 at home, and those suffering from indirect side effects of the pandemic, such as associated mental health conditions.”

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NHS Digital data shows that patients booked in to see their doctor on 254,815 occasions in the NHS Bristol North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG area in April.

This was down from 423,062 for the same month a year before – a 40 per cent drop.

The NHS says changes in the way GP practices are operating could have affected the figures, with remote sessions being underreported.

In Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, 62 per cent of sessions were logged as having been completed over the phone in April, significantly up from just 20 per cent a year previously.

A spokesperson for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG, said: “Local GP practices remain open and can consult with patients through telephone calls and even through face-to-face appointments if needed.

“All practices in the area also offer video appointments, with over 1,000 carried out in the last week, and over 20,000 in the last three months.”

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