Inside GP chaos: The waiting times, remote appointments and lack of GPs – data

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The coronavirus pandemic has left GP offices and A&E wards on their knees since September, with several hundred Covid patients still admitted daily. The Government has tried to correct the issue by plumping healthcare offices with a cash boost, but doctors and other professionals have said it doesn’t go far enough. Data has revealed the breadth of the crisis the NHS currently faces as a potentially devastating winter Covid wave looms.

NHS England released its monthly data for hospital performances yesterday, exposing shortfalls across the health sector.

Lengthening A&E wait times have left people stuck in the emergency room for more than four hours, exceeding the target introduced in 2004.

The NHS data shows doctors admitted 386,000 people to A&E in 2021, more than 25 percent endured waits longer than four hours, and just under two percent (5,000) waited 12.

The situation doesn’t improve across the UK’s home nations, with nearly half waiting more than the target time.

Approximately four in 10 people who required A&E treatment living in Northern Ireland had waits longer than four hours.

The same data shows the pandemic has left GP surgeries struggling to recover from practice-altering measures.

In August, GPs only saw approximately 58 percent of their patients for a face-to-face appointment, which some health conditions require.

Before the pandemic, doctors were seeing approximately 80 percent of their patients for in-person appointments.

Surgeries are also suffering from a chronic shortage which came to a head this year.

The NHS England numbers for March each year since 2016 show a gradual decline in GP ranks.

In 2016, the health service employed 28,052 doctors, and today only 26,912.

Numbers have fluctuated over the last five years, and while the latest figures show a slight increase, there are only 164 more than 2020.

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Approximately 100 to 400 staff vacated their roles on average before then.

These shortages, coupled with the stresses of the pandemic, have left GPs exhausted, with “burnout and stress” hampering their efforts.

Dr Preeti Shukla, Clinical Advisor to myGP and GP in East Lancashire, said “overwhelming” demands have left them unable to feel proud of the last year and a half they have spent serving the UK.

She said: “Exhaustion from the pandemic, coupled with a shrinking workforce, has left GPs topping the list for burnout and mental distress amongst all medical professions.”

“While my colleagues have much to be proud of, notably leading vaccine centres across the country, overwhelming patient demand has left no time for GPs to acknowledge the good they’ve achieved in the last eighteen months.”

The Government has provided some sticking plaster relief in a £250 million fund for temporary staff.

Health minister Sajid Javid has promised to return services to their pre-pandemic look.

But Dr Shukla said the “hybrid” model of face-to-face and remote appointments provides a “vital lifeline” for treating a spectrum of patients.

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