Medical staff wearing protective clothing take a patient off a ambulance at St Thomas' hospital as the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) continues, London, Britain, March 31, 2020 (Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay).

Many patients are finding it difficult to see their general practitioners (GPs) and hence are heading to A&E departments, according to an article published in The Times at the weekend (April 17).

The article shared data released by NHS England which showed that there were 1.7 million visits to emergency departments in March which went up from 1.3 million in February.

Sir Robert Francis, chairman of Healthwatch England, was quoted as saying: “People will go to A&E if there is nowhere else to go, and their condition may deteriorate leading to an increased treatment and care because they couldn’t get help sooner.”

A review by the charity looking at GP access between April 2019 and December 2020 found that many people were struggling to access care from their GP. There was an increase in people having difficulty booking appointments, facing long waits when calling their surgery, or being left anxious as to when their doctor would call.
By December last year, about 75 per cent of people who contacted Healthwatch were reporting negative experiences with accessing GP services, up 20 per cent at the same point in time in 2019.

While GPs claimed that they are conducting more consultations than ever, the charity said communication issues meant people did not know how to access them. Sir Robert now wants NHS England to undertake a review of access to GPs.

When the A&E performance statistics were released this week, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned that without action there could be an “unconscionable” return to the days of patients being cared for in corridors of crowded departments.

Dr Adrian Boyle, vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “We know many of our patients have tried to seek alternative care before arriving at departments, so it is possible that some people may be attending emergency departments following difficulty securing an appointment with their GP.”
He added, however, that “a well-resourced and well-funded health service should be able to cope with high levels of patient and community demand”.
GP leaders said their teams had delivered routine care and services on top of the largest flu vaccination programme in the UK history, care for Covid-19 patients, and the coronavirus vaccination programme itself. A data from the Royal College of GPs showed that the GPs conducted over 20 million consultations in four weeks to April 11.
An NHS spokeswoman said: “General practice carried out 275 million appointments throughout the pandemic, over half of which were face to face, and while there is ongoing demand for remote consultations, the NHS will continue to regularly review the process for accessing appointments.”
She added that the NHS had invested £450 million in critical care services.

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