Patients go to A&E after they fail to get GP appointments
PEOPLE with minor illnesses are going to hospital accident and emergency departments because they cannot get an appointment with their GP, it has been claimed.
South Gloucestershire Council’s health scrutiny commission heard some residents were calling their surgery for an appointment, only to be told they were number 100 in the queue.
The organisation which funds GP surgeries said work was being done to tackle staffing shortages across the system.
But one reader who contacted the Voice in response to last month's national patient survey, which showed nearly three quarters of patients had problems contacting some local surgeries, said he has had to call more than 100 times to get through, been kept on hold for 20 minutes – and been offered an appointment five weeks away.
Earlier this summer NHS managers urged people with minor ailments to stay away from A&E as hospitals, including Southmead, experienced levels of demand usually only found in winter.
But Staple Hill and Mangotsfield councillor Michael Bell told the scrutiny meeting on July 28: "There’s a great deal of public frustration at the moment about the difficulty even to make a telephone appointment with our local GPs.
"It is not uncommon for the answerphone to give the message that the caller is number 15 in the queue, even at 8 o’clock in the morning.
“The result of this is that more residents in need of medical assistance and advice are presenting themselves at the Southmead Hospital A&E or other A&Es, which can then create waiting times on occasions of five hours at the hospital for what may well be a relatively minor ailment.”
Kingswood councillor April Begley said she had heard from residents who had been told "100 people have been waiting" for calls to be answered.
Voice reader Martin Cox said he found it "almost impossible to make an appointment to see or talk to a doctor" at Christchurch Medical Centre in North Street.
He said: "We are told to ring at 8am but it is constantly engaged and when you eventually get through you are told there are no appointments left, please ring tomorrow at 8am, and so it goes on and on!"
Mr Cox said on one occasion he had called his surgery 106 times before receiving an answer, "only to be told I was 17th in the queue".
He added: "I was then on hold for a further 20 minutes...before I spoke to someone who told me that all the appointments were gone for that day. I tried to make an appointment for any time in the next week but was told their system will only let them make appointments for that day."
Mr Cox said in August he received a letter asking him to discuss a blood test with his doctor but when he called to arrange an appointment, the earliest one available was five weeks away. He said: "The system is not working and is not fit for purpose."
David Jarrett, the South Gloucestershire area director for the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, which funds GP surgery provision, told councillors work was being done to tackle staffing challenges across the health system.
He said: “We are also working with individual practices in terms of resilience and support to continue to ensure access is maintained.
"Face-to-face appointments have always been available throughout Covid at practices.
"Calls are triaged but face-to-face appointments are available.”
Kingswood councillor Andrea Reid told him face-to-face appointments have not always been available at every practice, saying in some cases "the patient has been asked to send photos of the issue rather than see a doctor".
The commission has asked for a report showing the extent of the problem and action to tackle it.
Meeting report by Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporting Service