MPs debate GP appointment issues at Westminster Hall

The debate over GP appointments continued this week as Burnham MP Joy Morrissey led a Westminster discussion on the problems facing practices.

The Conservative applied for the Westminster Hall debate, which focused on GP appointment availability, and cited examples of problems faced by her constituents in Farnham Common, Marlow and Burnham during her opening speech.

But while many MPs in the debate reported similar difficulties faced by constituents trying to access appointments, concerns were also raised about the increasing level of abuse faced by GPs and the number of doctors being employed to meet the demand.

Opening the debate on Tuesday, Mrs Morrissey said that the chances of a misdiagnosis can increase ‘dramatically’ if GPs reply on ‘emails or telephone calls exclusively’.

She added: “For every 100 ailments that can be diagnosed safely without seeing a GP, there will be one that cannot – one that could prove to be fatal, which is not a price worth paying.”

Citing examples of constituents’ experience, she raised concerns about elderly or disabled residents for whom phone appointments are not appropriate and quoted a Farnham Common resident who said a friend had made 140 unsuccessful attempts to reach their GP surgery.

Mrs Morrissey added a ‘number’ of residents had also written to her and spoken about Burnham Health Centre – adding the practice ‘consistently’ faces IT challenges.

She added: “Some GP surgeries, in certain parts of my constituency, are excellent—they were excellent with the vaccine roll-out; they are excellent now; they have done everything in their power to see as many constituents as possible—and then there are certain others, in the Iver and Burnham areas, where we continually have complaints, where constituents come to me in desperation because they have nowhere else to go.”

Parliamentary under-secretary of state for health and social care, Maria Caulfield, pointed out that, in Buckinghamshire, practices had arranged more than 200,000 patient appointments in August – an increase of more than 3,000 from August 2019.

She advised Mrs Morrissey to try and broker a meeting between GPs and the clinical commissioning group to consider additional support for practices which are struggling.

She explained that the Government’s GP support package will provide telephone support through a cloud-based system, which will allow patients to get through ‘much quicker’, provide an automated queuing system and take the pressure off GPs.

Labour’s Kim Leadbeater warned against a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ and pointed to a survey by the British Medical Association that found GPs and reception staff in particular had been the subject of verbal abuse.

Mrs Morrissey responded to say she is not attempting to disparage ‘the wonderful work of the majority of GPs and GP’s surgeries’ but some surgeries have struggled to respond to constituents with phone calls.

Labour’s Mohammad Yasin also raised the issue of GP shortages, and called for an urgent independent review of access to general practice, rather than controversial proposals for a ‘name and shame’ league table.

A spokesman for Buckinghamshire CCG said: “NHS Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group recognises how important the issue of appointment availability is at GP practices and we are sorry to hear of any patient who may have experienced difficulty in arranging one. We continue to work with GP practices to support them during this extremely busy time and to identify any ways in which we can help them to alleviate additional pressures.

”This includes work to assist in staff recruitment and sourcing locum support, improving online appointment booking systems, and tailored support and training for practice staff where required.

“GP practices across Buckinghamshire continue to work extremely hard under immense pressure. There is greater demand on primary care services than usual for this time of year and COVID-19 continues to impact on staffing levels, as staff members become ill or have to isolate.”

At a Burnham Parish Council meeting earlier this month, Cllr Carol Linton said Burnham Health Centre is aware of issues with its telephone system and is looking into the problem. Earlier this month, the centre also opened its doors for people to go in and book appointments.

The centre has been contacted for further comment.

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