Shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic’ – Fragile GP system needs more support, say Kent councillors


By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan

Worried councillors have called for radical changes to the way the general practice system is run in Kent as patients continue to face long waits for appointments.

Kent County Council’s (KCC) health scrutiny committee says more must be done to relieve the growing pressure on surgeries across the county. There are 1,180 Kent GPs, working in 192 GP surgeries, supported by just over 1,000 nurses, paramedics and pharmacists.

Kent NHS leaders say the pandemic has “intensified” workforce challenges as they find it harder to recruit new GPs, while staff are providing continuing help for patients on hospital waiting lists and aiding the coronavirus vaccine rollout.

However, county councillors have warned that patients are facing lengthy delays in speaking to their GP and having to travel long distances to surgeries.

Calls were made to find long-term solutions during a meeting, which involved a panel of NHS staff and more than 10 councillors, at County Hall, Maidstone on Thursday. (Nov 11)

Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine (Lab) said: “We are in danger of shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic.”

The panel was told there has been difficulty in people booking GP slots across Kent, which residents are “increasingly” experiencing.

It comes as new NHS data reveals that the number of full-time GPs in Kent has reduced from 1,295 in September 2015 to 1,180 in June 2021. In addition, the KCC committee was told a Tonbridge and Malling resident made 80 phone calls to their GP before they received a response.

Cllr Andrew Kennedy (Con), of Malling North East, who is KCC’s public health chair, said: “The quality of care when you see a GP is fantastic, but it is getting to see a GP that is the problem.”

Romney Marsh county councillor Tony Hills (Con) suggested hiring more GP apprentices as a potential solution. He said Kent’s NHS was “fishing from the same pond” as other national health trusts, with regards to recruitment of more GPs.

He added: “Learning on the street and going out to GP surgeries is the way forward. That’s why the apprenticeship system is ideal.”

The Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which oversees the running of GPs, laid out a series of proposed short and long-term actions. They include improving communication with residents to improve understanding of alternative options, such as 111, and using pharmacies and urgent treatment centres to help meet demand.

About 883,900 GP bookings were made in Kent in September 2021, including 552,500 face-to-face, which is the highest level since January 2020.

Bill Millar, the Kent and Medway CCG’s director of primary care, said: “We have to balance the needs of patients with the services that are available online, on the telephone and face-to-face.”

A further review is expected by KCC’s health scrutiny committee in March 2022.


  1. Bethesda Cliftonville is appalling.
    Doctors just don’t want to see anyone unless they have to. 3 weeks for a telephone consultation…. Tel consults are obviously quicker so why the delay… Complained to practice manager by post…ignored

  2. The NHS has been allowed to fail over the last 11+ years. Please watch The Great NHS Heist on YOU TUBE before complaining about the front line staff.Doctors & nurses are leaving in droves. At the vaccine centres they rely on retired medics.

    • GP’s average 100k…EARN it… Seems they liked the remote consults in the lockdown and don’t want to go back. We locked down to “look after the NHS” now it’s time for it to look after us.

  3. It’s been worse since the covid pandemic started. Surgeries seem to like this way of dealing with patients better and have not reverted back to full pre-covid ways yet. Many people give up trying to get one of the few appointments available each day. By the time you get through to speak to receptionists after trying since 8.00 am there are no appointments left, and you are told to ring again the next morning at 8.00 am again. A lot of people are seriously sick but cannot get a GP appointment. Who knows what is being missed from getting diagnosed? Also, waiting lists for referrals are terrible now. I have been waiting a year so far for ENT appointment to come through. God only knows when that will be. There are many waiting longer for more important consultant appointments! Why? What is going on with our NHS? It’s like the Government are dismantling the service bit by bit so they can bring in insurance schemes.

    • I unfortunately are one of the people who has given up trying to get a Drs appointment. I suffer with asthma/copd, diabetes to name just a couple of problamatic things. I now see a diabetic nurse every six months (this time it is only 3 months due to a sugar count rise) and she gets the Dr to come in to see me as my chest has a rattle to it and then gives me stronger antibiotics and if needed steroids as well’ They know that with every chest infection I end up worse than before. So yes I have spent 3 weeks ringing at 08;00 and never getting a phone consult let alone an appointment and have now given up trying as it is costly to keep ringing them.

    • I had a thought recently now that most people have been vaccinated, should they catch the covid virus their symptoms do not warrant hospitalisation, and they can be treated at home! This means the burden of their care is falling on GP’s, does anyone know if this is the case?

  4. i think the problem starts with the clowns on reception, many of them think they are consultants , when in fact they are more likely to be ex shop assisstants , i often wonder how many people they have topped with thier telephone diagnosis ?

  5. You can pay £50 and get an immediate video consultation on apps such as LIVI or VideoGP………it is wrong to have to do that, but perhaps on a moral ground it frees up the service for those that cannot pay…….and you get prescriptions and referrals from the service. Its quicker and you dont have to queue on a phone or sit in a surgery…..

  6. Real World – I know from experience that GP Receptionists are given a list of questions from the GPs that they have to ask and they have a system to follow so please don’t “blame the clowns!” they are only doing what they are told.

  7. Just cus the list is from a doc don’t make it right… You ring to make an appointment end of … The details are between me and the doc.. If the doc reveals my medical info they are breaking law so why am me to reveal it to an appointment booker…

  8. The NHS (for whom we all clapped) generally and the GP service in particular is in tatters mostly because this government has seriously underfunded the service for over a decade.
    If you want a better NHS, then vote for a different government.
    There also seems to be a misplaced sense of entitlement. Everyone with a bit of a headache or upset stomach demands an immediate face-to-face with his GP.
    There are alternatives.
    NHS online, 119, the pharmacy (excellent) for example. If you’re seriously ill, 999 or get yourself to A&E.
    You think the UK system is bad, just look at what they’ve got in the USA – a system that Thatcher wanted to introduce here.

  9. You lambast the US system then suggest that wanting to see the GP is a sense of entitlement. In the US if you pay you get the service, In the UK you pay and don’t get a service…

    • In the US insurance companies try to wiggle out of paying up & patients have to fund themselves. 1000’s go bankrupt & sell everything to get medical care. If you really want to know what’s happening in the UK here’s some watching for you All on You Tube. The Great NHS Heist or Groundswell or The Dirty War on the NHS or SICKOUK or Under the Knife or Sell Off. Many Tory MPs have shares in private healthcare eg SERCO, Optum, G4S, Carillion etc. Join the dots

    • We do pay for the NHS Andrew, most of our working lives! I am in my 8th decade, and every day is precious, I do not want to waste one trying to get thorough on the telephone for an appointment! If my health problem is non urgent, I will write a letter to the Practice Manager for an appointment, because they don’t answer emails, Duurh!

  10. I could get fantastic private health care for my £600 National Insurance payments every month but I don’t get a choice where to spend it. Why is it private hospitals are lovely and no wait but NHS hospitals are dirty dumps that give you Covid or MRSA and a three year wait… Easy. run properly with good business practice. A crap run company will go bust, a crap run hospital… Just keeps sucking up more n more cash.. Another layer of management to put right the layer belows errors ad infinitum. Look at QEQM. It’s the GP’s that are the big issue at the moment, there are vacancies at QEQM for a consultant surgeon @ 85k and GP’s get on average 100k for making contact with people from their call centre. Ironic it’s still called a surgery when the actual surgeons are getting paid less than the GP.

    • Andrew, your misinformed! Private medicine/hospitals have very limited services, nowhere near whats available on the NHS. A few years ago I tried to obtain surgery to my hand for contracture of a finger (A genetic condition) I had signed a contract to rent a bungalow in Spain, and the NHS waiting list would have meant my flying back during my stay of 4 months for the surgery plus a couple of weeks for recuperation! I tried to obtain a Quote to have the surgery carried out before I left for Spain, from two private hospitals, both asked me what insurance company would be paying? I said I don’t have a private medical insurance, I wanted to pay myself if I the cost wasn’t excessive! Guess what? Neither of the hospitals got back to me, I wonder why?

  11. Why do some people with some £ savings insist on using nhs Gp services for the most basic issues.

    Fast track private services are available for most, private Gp & medical services are not that expensive. They can refer patients as well.
    Health insurance is available, its not expensive.
    Nhs should be for people that cannot afford to pay fpr their treatments.

    Private gp services is same as private schools, you want the best you pay for it.

    Anyway councillors are on the case, so it will all get sorted out.blah+

  12. I can relate to many of the conflicting views here and I think that’s because the NHS has long extremely random in the way it operates. One day in hospital and you can run the entire gamut: meeting maniacal staff and extremely competent individuals, being in clean, comfortable conditions and disgustingly insanitary areas, experiencing swift, efficient communication and ludicrous muddles. The optimist focuses on the good stuff and the pessimist on the bad and both insist that their story is the whole story. It has long been an unwieldy system and now it’s unwieldy, massively under-funded, under-staffed and in the process of being eroded – on purpose – by private healthcare.

    One thing is incontrovertible – there are not enough GPs. Even the successive governments who have sneakily undermined the NHS would not disagree with that. The GPs know it, NHS workers know it, we know it. Really, really bad news for an ageing population.

    Ideally we’d educate children about the NHS and how to use it but by the time they grow up they wouldn’t be able to apply what they’d learnt.

  13. May I make an observation on here, would it not be the amount of Patients on each Surgery books be the problem, with the amount of House Building in Kent, not enough Doctors to cater, for the amount of people coming to Kent, ban all house building, until this situation has been resolved.

  14. I agree there are huge problems within the NHS but there is no easy solution to any one of the problems – otherwise they would have been solved. And don’t just blame the current government – no political party has the answer. And if there is a suggestion of increasing taxes / NI contributions, there is a huge outcry. Everything costs money. The NHS was devised to serve the population in the 1940s and so much has changed since and I think we need to reconsider the whole concept of everything in the NHS being free for all.

    I went for an outpatient appointment recently and when I walked into the room, the consultant thanked me for showing up – it seems the three previous patients had not. The consultant said this frequently happens so he now discharges them. Which means they have to then go back through the GP system, putting more pressure on the telephonists, reception staff and GP surgery. So it is patients themselves who also contribute to the problem.

    I strongly believe it is time to start fining those who miss doctor or hospital appointments.

    I spent 18 hours in A&E recently with my 90 year old mother who has dementia – there were 6 policemen there with 3 men on stretchers – all of whom were either drunk or on drugs – these people should also be charged. To say nothing of a waste of police time – no wonder there are not enough police on the streets.

    As for blood tests – yes it can take weeks at the GP surgery. So go to QEQM as I do – there is usually an appointment available within a day or two. This can be booked by phone on 01227 206739‬ or via the internet –

    As for getting a GP appointment – we all know how difficult it has become but that is due to the huge shortage of GPs in the whole country. I too am with Bethesda and find they are constantly looking for solutions to the problems of which they are fully aware. The reception staff do their best but how would you like a job where you are constantly abused each day you go in to work?

    Many patients insist they want to see their GP but many times that it is not necessary – at Bethesda, in an effort to alleviate the problems caused by GP shortages, there are now 5 paramedic / nurse practitioners who are trained and capable of seeing many patients and if they cannot diagnose the problem or feel it needs a GP consult, they will refer the patient to the GP. I have used this service many times and it is excellent.

    It is so easy to write on here criticising the NHS and Bethesda but how much of the fundamentals of all these problems do you understand? Why don’t you try looking at all aspects and try and have a bit more understanding for the thousands within the NHS who are doing their utmost to care for an ageing population, more life saving procedures than ever before, more expensive medicines saving lives etc etc etc.

    And no – I don’t work in the NHS but have had senior management positions over the years and learnt long ago that there are always many aspects of a crisis situation.

    So try complaining less and be more informed which hopefully will lead to your being more understanding.

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