Dear Mr Hollinrake,
I am a GP at Hunmanby Surgery and I am writing to inform you of the extreme pressure that General Practice in your constituency is currently under. We have remained open throughout the pandemic. In the first wave we followed every piece of guidance from NHS England to keep our patients and staff safe whilst continuing to give patients good access. We had to adapt rapidly to telephone consulting, balancing the risk of this against the risk of covid. Over the summer we continued with telephone consulting whilst seeing more and more patients face to face after a phone consult. This has caused increased workload. Our nursing staffs are attempting to catch up on important long term condition reviews with a reduced number of appointments due to the cleaning requirements between each patient. We are following the QOF guidance to increase early cancer detection, continue with learning disability reviews and prioritise high risk patients for reviews.
The letter from NHSE, which was leaked first to the press, reminding practices to offer face to face appointments was a kick in the teeth. We have never closed to face to face appointments but have offered the safe system of phone appointment first followed by face to face appointment where appropriate. Sadly the press coverage of this led to a lot of aggression towards our reception staff when they followed the NHS England SOP for general practice of booking a phone appointment first.
The last few months have been busy, patients have at times been ruder and more complaining than normal particularly to our reception staff, but we have coped. We worked extra shifts in order to provide flu vaccines safely.
Two weeks ago the decision to request GPs to organise the covid vaccination process was leaked to the press meaning the BMA GPC had very little choice other than to accept the terms of the enhanced service and subsequently individual practices and PCNs had even less choice other than to go ahead. We have committed to doing this and our staff have amazingly offered to work above their usual hours for several months including over holidays in order to accomplish this. This will not be enough and so we will have to pull staff away from their usual roles in order to provide the vaccine. This will be harmful for patients who will not be able to access the care they require. We do not believe that the fee will anywhere near cover the cost of providing this service but as always the government relies on the goodwill of NHS staff.
This morning that goodwill has run out. We learnt on our way to work that GPs are to give 50-64 year olds flu vaccines in December, the very time that we are supposed to be ready to give covid vaccines. We were previously aware of this possibility but in recent weeks the indication from NHSE was that this had gone by the wayside now that the covid vaccine was planned. I think it is extremely poor of the government to yet again announce major health policy to the press before communicating with GPs. The BBC article said that people were advised to book an appointment as soon as possible and that the NHS was well equipped to provide both flu and covid vaccines.
I’m not sure if you have visited a local health facility recently? We are not well equipped. Years of Conservative austerity has stripped the NHS to the bone. With the local increase in covid the hospital is under significant pressure. This leaves GPs to manage patients who have conditions requiring surgery, those recovering from a hospital admission that was cut short due to the need for early discharge as well as our usual patients. We are doing this with the ever present threat that we may be short staffed due to staff having to self isolate.
By releasing information to the public before communicating with relevant parties the government makes GPs look incompetent to patients. We do not yet have appointments available for flu vaccines for 50 to 64 year olds and yet we had people on the phone at 8.15 this morning requesting an appointment. It also makes our staff concerned that they will have to work yet more weekends in the run up to Christmas and gives them the impression that we’ve been hiding plans for this from them. Meanwhile the government chatters on about allowing Christmas get togethers. The Government seem to have missed the fact that the very people who have kept the country running this year – the key workers – will not be getting together with family and friends this Christmas as the chances are they will be working.
We look forward to hearing from you.