Pre-booked GP appointments ‘a thing of the past’?
PUBLISHED: 08:00 13 October 2015 | UPDATED: 17:59 13 October 2015
‘INCREASING pressure’ on Weston-super-Mare’s doctors means the wait for pre-booked appointments could reach up to four weeks in the next year.
Escalating demand for medical services from the area’s growing population means the problem is one which ‘every GP will recognise’ according to a Weston doctor who also warns the situation will ‘get worse before it gets better’.
Results of a new study by GP peer magazine Pulse show one in five of doctors surveyed think waiting times for appointments could reach up to a month by this time next year.
Dr John Heather, of New Court Surgery in Weston’s Locking Road, suggested a lack of new GPs and nurses is exacerbating the issue.
He told the Mercury: “It’s a problem every GP will recognise. A lot of doctors don’t want to be GPs at the moment, it is quite bleak.
“It depends on the system in place in the practice, I don’t think it is a blanket problem but access is a challenge. Getting to see your GP when you want to see them is difficult.”
The national picture of growing strain on GPs is having a significant local impact, according to Healthwatch North Somerset.
The body studies satisfaction levels with healthcare services, and recently discovered 35 per cent of those who answered a survey found they cannot get an appointment when they need it.
Healthwatch found the most common reasons for being unable to get an appointment, were that there were no appointments on the day the patient wanted or they could not see their preferred GP.
Healthwatch North Somerset’s chief officer Eileen Jacques said: “The information that I get is that GPs are coming under increasing pressure.
“We know the number of requests for GP appointments are going up and GPs are needing to find different ways to deal with the increase in appointments and they are having to be a bit cleverer about what they do.”
GPs are now trying to deal with less urgent patients on the phone or during walk-in appointments, leaving on-the-day appointments for emergency cases to try to combat the backlog.
Ms Jacques said: “That’s certainly the case in North Somerset and doctors are finding new ways of working.
“I would think the system of calling for appointments the next day is a thing of the past.
“Most people seem to be happy with their GP once they get in the door, it’s just that blip where they are trying to get an appointment and some people have to wait.
“If you are lucky enough to get in at 8am when the lines open that’s great, but if you forget and call at 8.15am and all the appointments are gone and you have to try the next day, it can be difficult.”
Dr Heather and Tudor Lodge Surgery practice manager Suzie Heller agree much of the problem is due to people living longer.
Dr Heather said: “I think we have to find different ways of working, and we need to find alternatives to people always seeing the GP face-to-face.
“There are some solutions being sought out there, but I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
Miss Heller says her practice is always adjusting how many appointments are pre-booked and how many are kept for emergencies, as demand is always changing.
She said the surgery has tried various combinations and proportions of each but has decided to keep the majority of appointments for on-the-day booking only.
However, Miss Heller believes there is no simple solution to the huge demand for GPs.
She said: “It is an ongoing issue and there is no one easy answer. Practices across the area will all be discussing different ways of managing demand for their own patient populations, which vary quite significantly even across Weston.”