Comment: GPs have our sympathy but must not pull up drawbridge

The verdict delivered by Shropshire Star readers on the state of GP services across the region should make the powers that be stand up and take note.

Around seven in 10 readers believe services are now far worse than they were before Covid, and more than half say they have been forced to seek help elsewhere having been unable to see a doctor.

Patients struggle to get through on the phone, and when they do get to speak to someone they often feel fobbed off by the response received.

Face-to-face appointments have become a rarity over the past 18 months. The modern way of working – which appears to centre around the telephone consultation – is an inadequate way of dealing with many patients.

I say this from bitter personal experience, having been prescribed what turned out to be the wrong remedy for my ailment at the end of what felt like a rushed and deeply impersonal appointment-by-phone last year.

This has been going on for too long. It is getting worse, and as readers have opined in our survey, there appears to be no end in sight.

While nearly two thirds of respondents blame GP surgeries for the desperate state of current services, it must be pointed out that there is another side to the story.

Many GPs are said to be at their wits end, struggling to cope with overwhelming demand and unable to properly do the job effectively.

Their problems did not start with the pandemic.

Funding has been slashed over the past decade, while nationally staff numbers shrank by nearly 20 per cent between 2007 and 2019.

Things have only become worse since Covid, which has seen GPs continue to depart the profession, with surgeries serving deprived areas the worst hit.

Their lot has been made worse by by the chaos engulfing other areas of the NHS, and there is a genuine fear that opening up surgeries for face-to-face appointments could result in further Covid outbreaks.

GPs understandably feel a little under siege. They often have a thankless task and many do not want to speak on the record.

Ironically, at one surgery we were told that if we wanted to speak to a GP we would need to make an appointment.

Many said they were unhappy at national media coverage of the issue, and believe they are being unfairly blamed for the current crisis.

Whether this is right or wrong, pulling up the drawbridge is not a sensible move.

There has been much coverage about difficulties patients have getting hold of their GP surgery. It is the talking point on many neighbourhood online chatrooms. There is much unhappiness out there and individual GPs should not be blamed.

It would be nice to hear a GP explain why they are unable to see patients in person, and why services have deteriorated to such a dramatic extent, but it has been left to two NHS bosses in Shropshire to write an open letter in their defence.

They rightly say the public should be kind to healthcare staff, who have a difficult job to do.

Still, this is an issue which must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

GPs play a vital role in our communities. In recent months they have been pivotal in helping to deliver the vaccine programme, but the public is desperate for them to get back to the day job.

The problem is that a workforce that is already under strain simply cannot cope with the current surge in demand.

Should this situation continue, it is difficult to know where the GPs of the future will come from.

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