Demand for GP appointments heightens with ‘fears over Coronavirus’

GP Appointments

Take some time to think about GPs – demand for their service and appointments has multiplied beyond belief with the advent of the Coronavirus. As if they didn’t already have enough to do, particularly with ever-changing guidelines imposed upon them by the NHS.


Many surgeries are claiming that they are not equipped to deal with the Coronavirus, either in terms of manpower or the actual tools to deal with it, such as protective clothing and updated information. With the virus expected to reach a high level of infection within the next 10-14 days, there will be increased demand on GPs time. It is potentially a disaster waiting to happen, particularly with the possibility that GPs themselves could contract the virus and be hospitalised or impose self-isolation.


All practices are in danger of suffering once the outbreak worsens and potentially reached pandemic proportions. Small practices with only 2 or 3 GPs will be under severe pressure if even just one of them is off due to illness, whether Coronavirus or not. Larger practices with an incredible patient load are potentially more at risk with increasing demand for appointments – it is not unheard of for the emergency 111 service to refer possible cases back to their surgery. The NHS just simply cannot cope.


What GPs are saying…

GPs are not necessarily in agreement with the NHS or other medical bodies. In fact, far from it, as the realities of running a surgery seem to be ignored.


Dr Jenny Harries OBE, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, stated that pushing back the expected onslaught of the virus until the summer months, would take pressure off surgeries and the NHS in general. GPs feel that this is a total misconception, as whilst the winter months bring the usual colds, coughs and other related illnesses, they are no less busy in the summer months with varying patient illnesses and the usual care of the elderly and other vulnerable patients that have ongoing treatment and check-ups.


The main concerns emphasised by GPs, were:


-Ever-expanding demand for appointments, that will inevitably be an impossibility to fulfil, thereby patient care will be at a minimum. Experienced GPs likened this to what happened during the outbreak of swine flu which lasted from 2009 until the end of 2010.

-GPs feel exposed and vulnerable and do not feel reassured that the NHS is providing adequate support, either in information or equipping surgeries with necessary protective items. NHS England has responded by saying they will deliver in the coming week, but GPs are not confident.

-Surgeries have asked for the suspension of routine appointments or a cut back on the length of time taken. As yet, this has not been listened to, leaving GPs with an incredible amount of responsibility to judge what is, or is not important.

-GPs have also called for a suspension of surgery inspections by the CQC, which currently has ‘fallen on deaf ears’ but will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

-There is concern regarding the engagement of locum staff – will locums be prepared to stand in if an area is particularly high risk with cases, therefore leaving a surgery short staffed at a critical time.

-The general feeling and consensus is that there should be more inter-activity between the NHS and GP surgeries to consider options and mode of operation during this difficult period. After all, GPs are the frontline in primary care. Frankly, GPs do not feel they are consulted enough.


Drive-through testing centres

Whilst these have become available in certain parts of the country, the speed with which they are being rolled out by the NHS is comparable with the velocity of a snail. There are not enough, and not always conveniently located for people who wish to self-isolate, yet still be tested. If more were available, this would undoubtedly take more pressure away from GPs and their surgeries. But it is just not happening, as setting these up takes time and resources.


What have the UK health authorities learnt?

It’s over 100 years since the devastating Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918, but there have been others since involving influenza – 1957-1958, 1968-1969, 1977-1978 and 2009-2010.


One would assume that there should be a learning curve, with the advancement in medicine and in medical practices, but unfortunately, we are still hit with viruses that get out of control. Seasonal flu is bad enough, but when illnesses such as the Coronavirus hit a relatively sophisticated medical system as here in the UK, we still haven’t really learned how to cope with it.


Unfortunately, with new flu viruses and mutations occurring from one year to the next, will we ever be able to keep up, or can we expect to see an Armageddon similar to that experienced in 1918? Vaccines aside, maybe it’s time to listen to our GPs in terms of coping, rather than curing.

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