Pauline Farrance is a Thanet District councillor and a founder member of Save Our NHS in Kent (SONIK).Here she talks about the issue of being able to get a GP appointment:
The NHS is in crisis but, in Thanet, things are particularly tough. In some GP surgeries it is almost impossible to get an appointment.
I’ve seen patients queuing in long lines from 7am, on wet and windy winter days, to try to get an appointment. And at some surgeries people have found that those in the queue will be prioritised over telephone requests for appointments.
So, does this mean if you’re well enough to stand around in the cold and wet, you take precedence over someone too sick or elderly to do that?
In at least one surgery in Thanet, each GP is responsible for over 5,000 patients – compared to as little at 1,200 in some other areas. Why are things so difficult in Thanet?
In one case at the end of last year, a 91-year-old woman gave up on getting an appointment by phone with her GP and got a taxi to the Accident and Emergency department at Margate’s QEQM Hospital.
She was worried about pains in her head and neck. She was given a thorough examination at A&E, being seen by different doctors as she had a number of health concerns. These hard-working and conscientious doctors were so concerned about her that they organised urgent referrals to two different hospital departments, one in Canterbury and one in QEQM. When the patient attended these two appointments two weeks later, no further treatment was required.
Had this elderly woman been able to get an appointment with her GP, the urgent referrals would not have been necessary, as the GP knew her and had her records.
This was not only wasting time in A&E, but also the two urgent specialist appointments – estimated by the NHS – at a cost of £160 each.
The woman also reported that the nurse in A&E told her that five other patients were in A&E because they couldn’t get GP appointments.
To me, this is a perfect – but very troubling – example of the problem with surgeries here not being able to give GP appointments.
Other problems arise because doctors are simply unable to spend time understanding patients’ problems, and are also struggling with patients with mental health issues.
Until recently, I worked in a university which is well-known for providing specialist support for high-functioning autistic students who often experience mental health difficulties as well.
This is one such local patient’s experience as he told it to me:
‘He also told me my autism is unimportant’
“While I was trying to access support for autism and related issues, my doctor was unhelpful, even obstructive. He just didn’t seem to understand.
“He also told me my autism is unimportant. In a way that is true, but at the time I had severe anxiety and depression, suicidal thoughts and frequent fits, all of which were related to my autism.
“I saw, too, on a report for the Department of Work and Pensions my doctor wrote that I have learning difficulties. In fact the opposite is true. My academic qualifications are of a very high standard.
“Because of the tablets I take for my blood pressure, my blood pressure is monitored regularly. I also have regular blood tests to make sure the tablets haven’t affected my liver and kidneys.
“At my previous GP surgery the regular blood tests didn’t happen. When I transferred to my present surgery they picked up on this and called me straight in for a blood test. They found I had folic acid anaemia, a hangover from the time I couldn’t afford enough food. I have had regular blood and blood pressure tests ever since.
“I became frightened of having to see my doctor because of his attitude. Also the receptionists were evidently stressed up to the eyeballs and very snappy. That’s why I changed my doctor. At my new surgery it is quite the opposite. The receptionists are calm and very helpful. The atmosphere is altogether much nicer, and it is much easier to make an appointment.”
Why should GP surgeries, less than 3 miles apart, offer such a different service? GPs are a vital front line in the NHS. If you can’t get an appointment or are scared of your doctor, your health will suffer.
I am compiling case studies of patient’s problems in Thanet so please contact me if you have a story to tell at firstname.lastname@example.org