General Practice across Harborough and the whole of Leicestershire is battling a full-blown crisis, GPs are warning patients.
GP doctors throughout the county have issued the dire warning in a bombshell open letter signed by the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Local Medical Committee.
They say that staff shattered by the Covid pandemic are becoming “demoralised” as they urged patients to be “respectful and kind” rather than “abusive and rude”.
Reacting to the explosive letter, Cllr Phil Knowles, a veteran health campaigner, told the Harborough Mail: “This is deeply concerning.
“It’s almost unprecedented for GPs to publicly fire a devastating broadside as they have done here.
“GPs are teetering on the brink – and we must act now to drag them back from the edge.”
Cllr Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrats on Harborough District Council, added: “Our GPs are in the frontline of critical medical care.
“But we have lost far too many practices all over the country over the last years.
“GPs and medical centres in Harborough as well as across the UK are under massive pressure – especially as they’ve had to battle the devastating Covid outbreak for the last year,” said Cllr Knowles.
“The Government urgently has to look at financial restructuring and properly targeted and applied investment backing our general practices.
“Ministers also have to talk to our GPs to ask exactly what support they need.
“GPs and their staff form the absolute bedrock of our entire medical care system.
“We go to see our GP first when we feel ill, we’re not right.
“And we are often referred back to GPs if we have been treated in hospital.
“We’ve had huge cutbacks in the number of GPs and they are on the brink of a full-scale crisis.
“The Government has to act now to help them,” said Cllr Knowles.
In their wide-ranging, highly-detailed open letter to patients, GPs say: “General practice is in crisis.
“Although often an overused word, this is currently an accurate description.
“We write to raise very important issues and to ask you to work with us, your general practices, to help you and all your family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues to be able to appropriately access healthcare.
“General practice remains the bedrock of the NHS as an effective, cost-efficient health service.
“Ninety per cent of healthcare starts and finishes in general practice.
“Prior to the pandemic general practice had significantly declined due to decades of under-investment by consecutive governments.
“This meant that when the pandemic started there was less resilience than there should have been,” warn GPs.
“During the pandemic general practices rapidly changed how we delivered services to keep patients, their family and carers, and our staff safe, whilst continuing to provide a service without ever pausing.
“During the past year practices have seen a significant increase in workload.
“Recent figures show that in March 2021 general practices in England provided over 28.5 million appointments.
“This was 5 million more appointments than in February 2021 - and 2.3 million more appointments than pre-pandemic times in March 2019.
“In Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland the number of GP appointments since before the pandemic had increased by 54,000 (10 per cent) appointments per month.
“This is at a time when there has been an ongoing significant decrease in the number of GPs and practices.
“During the pandemic general practices have been falsely accused of not pulling their weight and being ‘closed for business’.
“As you can see the truth is far from this,” insist GPs in Harborough and Leicestershire.
“But constant negative comments have resulted in more patients complaining about their practices and our colleagues and staff being demoralised.
“When hospitals had to close whole departments, general practices were left to support those patients with complex chronic conditions. “The huge backlog means that general practice will remain busy for the foreseeable future.
“As hospital departments restart their outpatient clinics these are often done remotely.
“They frequently expect general practice to pick up their work (for example arranging blood tests and scans, prescribing medication, arranging follow up, issuing sick notes) in addition to our own workload.
“This further reduces general practices’ ability to help our patients.”
Imploring patients to do their bit to help them, GPs stress: “Be respectful and kind.
“Please respect that general practitioners and our staff are working harder than ever to provide healthcare.
“Being abusive and rude will not get you seen quicker or improve your outcome.
“If you or your child have a minor rash, signs of a cold, or other minor symptoms, do not think GP first.
“Try home remedies, look for advice from or ask for help from a pharmacist,” advise GPs.
“Only seek an appointment if you have serious symptoms, or advised to by a pharmacist.
“Keep simple remedies, including Paracetamol or Ibuprofen, at home. “Order your repeat medications well in advance.
“Think about signing up to the NHS App or other App provided through your practice.
“Practices are receiving a massive increase in complaints.
“Each complaint takes staff away from patient care to respond to. “Before complaining, think whether it is appropriate.
“Be Covid aware.
“If you develop a new cough, high temperature or loss of taste or smell, it could be Covid.
“Do not contact your GP unless you have done a Covid test first,” GPs tell patients.
“Do not attend at the surgery, as this could cause an outbreak, infect vulnerable patients or staff, and lead to the practice having to close all their services for a deep clean.
“All health services have been significantly affected by the pandemic with huge backlogs.
“Your GP cannot change this.
“Do not expect your GP to get an appointment or investigation brought forward unless there has been a significant change in your condition. “You can only be moved up the list by making another patient wait longer.
“Be cancer aware.
“We are concerned that the number of patients presenting with symptoms of possible cancer or other significant illnesses has reduced during the pandemic.
“If you or someone you know have worrying symptoms, then please do not delay but make an appointment as soon as possible.”
GPs say they have suffered heartbreaking loss during the 15-month Covid pandemic – which has killed almost 130,000 people in the UK.
“We send our sincere sympathies to everyone who has been affected by the pandemic.
“GPs and our staff have also been affected.
“Too many of our colleagues, family members, friends and patients who we have known for many years, have died or otherwise suffered.
“We hope that this letter has helped to explain the pressures that general practice is under, why we cannot provide the level of service that you would like to receive and practices would like to provide,” say GPs.
“Please consider how you can help to protect services and ensure they are targeted towards patients with the greatest need.”