GPs told to work late to stop A&E crisis this Easter

It said GPs “must make up the canceled time by offering additional appointments within a two-week period”.

Complaints about GPs almost tripled last year, with the “vast majority” of concerns relating to difficulties accessing appointments, the NHS regulator has warned.

At the same time, official figures show a 10-fold rise in trolley waits of at least 12 hours in A&E departments in the last two years, with 16,404 cases in February, compared with 1,621 in February 2020.

Last month, average waits for ambulances reached two hours for victims of heart attacks and strokes in some parts of the country.

Patients’ groups said difficulties accessing GP care and a growing crisis in social care mean too many people are already ending up in A&E.

Dennis Reed, from Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s, said a growing crisis in hospitals and ambulance services was being fueled by difficulties accessing GPs and social care.

He said: “Primary care and social care are the lynchpins of the NHS and with them in meltdown, we are now seeing the knock-on effects all across the country, in ambulances and A&E departments – the situation is horrendous.”

Mr Reed said more needed to be done to improve access to GPs to alleviate pressures on hospitals, with particular concern over the struggles people have had in accessing face-to-face appointments since the pandemic.

GPs ‘under incredible strain’

On Monday Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said lives were being put at risk, with too many patients forced to endure “unbearable” experiences in dangerously crowded A&E units.

Prof Stephen Powis, national medical director, said NHS staff were working “flat out” caring for increasing numbers of Covid and emergency patients. But he urged anyone in need of help to come forward, saying the NHS 111 website could “signpost” the best places for help.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said GPs were working under “intense” pressure, delivering more appointments every month than before the pandemic.

He said the fall in the number of GPs had left many working “to their limits”, with many “burning out” and leaving the profession early.

“GPs and patients want the same thing, and we share our patients’ concerns about the difficulties they face in accessing GP appointments,” Prof Marshall added.

“GPs and our teams make the vast majority of NHS patient contacts and in doing so alleviate pressures across the health service, including in emergency departments – but the service is under incredible strain.” He urged the Government to make progress on pledges to increase GP numbers.

The new guidance also instructed doctors to ensure at least one practice in every area is open all day on Saturdays and until 8pm on weekdays by October. Until then, GPs are being asked to extend their hours beyond what they currently provide – meaning that if a surgery is currently contracted to open until 6.30pm, it would only be paid for “extended hours” by opening later.

The latest guidance also tries to bring an end to half-day closing, saying this should no longer be allowed on a routine basis.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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