A practice business manager at a doctor’s surgery in St Albans has revealed to MP Daisy Cooper her worries that many GPs are overworked and in danger of leaving patients with even fewer practising GPs.
The St Albans MP visited The Lodge Surgery on Normandy Road, where she spoke to practice business manager Liz Richards and GP partner Rani Bathia. The practice currently serves approximately 20,000 St Albans residents.
Liz says that in the last two months, the practice has seen six members of staff resign - including receptionists, healthcare assistants and GPs - all of whom cited abuse and workload as reasons. The practice currently has multiple half-day sessions a week, without any GP to service them, owing to the lack of staff.
She said: “All our staff members – from GPs to receptionists to registrars – have been working incredibly hard over the past 20 months, but many are burning out.
“We have five registrars here at different stages of training, and I know some of them are already wondering if being if a GP is the right path for them – they’re in an environment where they see us all stretched to the limit, overtired and not taking breaks. It’s hardly luring them into the profession.
“The government keeps saying it wants more GPs, but yet they keep putting out negative messaging about those who work in general practice, which the media then gets hold of and amplifies to the general public. It’s completely counter-productive towards building numbers of qualified GPs and it’s a huge worry to me and many others in healthcare.”
Liz told Daisy that the surgery normally takes more than 500 calls a day, with yet more trying to get through on the phone lines. The surgery’s online service, Online Consult, in which patients can report minor symptoms and receive a reply within 72 hours for non-urgent matters, has also been in demand.
GP partner Rani Bathia moved out of her home for three months during the height of the pandemic to make sure she didn’t bring COVID into her family home. She said: “Everyone here goes beyond what they’re required to do, but it still doesn’t feel like enough.
“We want to do the absolute best by our patients, even if it means working many hours of overtime and finishing admin at home late at night. But we’re people and patients too – it feels like the media and some members of the public have forgotten that.”
Daisy Cooper said: “I already knew that we had fewer GPs in St Albans than we did five years ago, but my visit to the GP practice was a real eye-opener. Over the past 20 months, everyone’s lives have been put on hold and many are understandably frustrated at not being able to get a timely GP appointment for themselves or a loved one, especially for conditions that may have been going on for some time.
“However, I can see that staff at GPs surgeries are also hugely frustrated. GPs, nurses and all practice staff have been incredibly hardworking over the pandemic - nurses in particular played and continue to play a vital role in the roll-out of the vaccination programme. But NHS-wide shortages mean that GP practices are often spending hours chasing hospital letters or reports for their patients which their patients expect them to already have.
"And the drive to tackle hospital waiting lists means that those patients who miss a hospital phone call or appointment through no fault of their own, often end up back with their GP having to start the referral all over again.
“Whilst these system failures are utterly infuriating – and I will keep telling the Government that too - it’s becoming increasingly clear that we will all have to play our part if we are to keep the community GPs and other health care professionals we have, who are battling these maddening systems and tackling the treatment backlog every day.
“I’ve already called on the Health Secretary to dial down his anti-GP rhetoric, get the professionals around the table, and put a real plan in place to tackle the NHS-wide staff shortage that is crippling our health and social care systems. But the frustrations of local residents and GPs alike are palpable, and I will keep pushing for bolder action.”
In the meantime, residents can always go to their community pharmacies for help and advice with minor ailments. The range of clinical services provided by community pharmacies has expanded significantly in recent years, with even more NHS services being provided by them from this year.