EXTREMELY BUSY: GP appointment waits
People with minor illnesses are turning up to Bristol A&Es because they cannot get an appointment with their GP, it is claimed.
Councillors in South Gloucestershire have spoken of having to phone dozens of times to get through to their GP surgery.
Some residents have reported being number 100 in the queue, one councillor said.
It comes after health bosses urged residents with minor ailments to stay away from A&Es instead of putting pressure on “extremely busy” services.
Record numbers visited the A&E departments at Southmead Hospital and the Bristol Children’s Hospital in June, as hospital chiefs warned of winter levels of demand in summer.
Doctors urged the public to take minor illnesses to their GP or pharmacist, rather than tying up services meant for medical emergencies, after it emerged that many A&E visits were for children with a mild headache or adults with colds, hay fever and headache.
But Staple Hill and Mangotsfield councillor Michael Bell told health leaders last week that residents were finding it difficult to make a GP appointment.
“There’s a great deal of public frustration at the moment about the difficulty even to make a telephone appointment with our local GPs,” he told a meeting of South Gloucestershire Council’s health scrutiny commission on July 28.
“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, who is a member of the scrutiny commission, said she had received emails from residents indicating the problem was even worse than Cllr Bell suggested and was “spread across the county”.
“The numbers I’ve got down here for the people waiting is far higher than 15,” she said. “It has actually been stated to me, and I have been there when it’s been said, that 100 people have been waiting.
“If people feel that they cannot speak to somebody then very often what they are doing is going to the A&E, and that actually is helping nobody.”
Other councillors said the problem did not affect every practice and some GP surgeries had longer waiting times than others.
Kingswood councillor Andrea Reid said: “I know at my own practice, without naming it, that I’ve often had to call 70 times – hang up, redial, hang up, redial – and then find that I’m close to 30 in the queue.
“I hear similar from local residents in surrounding practices.”
David Jarrett, South Gloucestershire area director for the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, said work was being done to tackle staffing challenges across the health system.
“We are also working with individual [GP] practices in terms of resilience and support to continue to ensure access is maintained,” he said.
“Face-to-face appointments have always been available through[out] Covid at practices,” he added. “Calls are triaged but face-to-face appointments are available.”
But Cllr Reid said face-to-face appointments have not always been available at every practice.
“They certainly haven’t been in the experience of myself and other residents that have come to me, where the patient has been asked to send photos of the issue rather than see a doctor.”
Commission members asked for a report showing the extent of the problem and what was being done to help them.
Mr Jarrett, who joined the meeting virtually from his home where he was self-isolating with his family, said he would provide that as part of a more rounded briefing of health system pressures at the next meeting.
Words: Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter
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