‘Please be patient and choose the right care’: doctors ask for support as demand for GP appointments increases

Doctors’ leaders in North Yorkshire and York are asking patients to “keep calm and be kind” when they call their GP practice.

Surgeries are facing an “unprecedented rise in demand” for services as the country emerges from lockdown restrictions.

With practice phone lines exceptionally busy and the number of face-to-face appointments still limited because of COVID restrictions, patients’ tempers are flaring.

A number of surgeries say their reception and admin teams are being subjected to increasing levels of hostility and verbal abuse,

NHS North Yorkshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Clinical Chair, Dr Charles Parker, said: “I cannot emphasise this strongly enough: we absolutely want to see patients when they have a serious health concern – we’re extremely worried that people have been putting off seeing a GP or other health professional because of the risks associated with COVID.

“However, at the same time we are asking people to be patient and respectful when they get through to speak to a member of their practice team.

“The overwhelming majority of patients understand we’re incredibly busy at the moment and it may take a little longer for phone calls to be answered during peak periods. They also appreciate that we’re not able to offer the same number of face-to-face appointments because we not only need to ensure we manage spaces like waiting areas in a COVID-safe way, with adequate social distancing and regular sanitisation, but also need time between each face-to-face appointment for our clinicians to put on and remove their PPE.

“We will always see patients face-to-face where it’s clinically necessary and is in the patient’s best interests, but in many instances, patients are happy to have a telephone or video appointment – where it’s appropriate.

“And we also ask people to remember that we’re much more than just doctors’ surgeries. There are a wide range of other highly-trained healthcare professionals working in general practice who may be better placed to meet a patient’s needs.

“This blended mixture of appointments is helping to ensure we can see the maximum number of patients and I want to thank people for playing their part.”

Dr Chris Stanley, a GP partner at Haxby Group in York and a member of NHS Vale of York CCG’s Governing body, added: “GP practices are facing an unprecedented rise in demand – this is set against a backdrop of recovery from the COVID pandemic, the largest NHS vaccination campaign in history (75 per cent of which has been delivered by GP practices and their teams) and a diminishing GP workforce.

“Despite these huge challenges, GP practices are responding and providing a safe and quality service for our residents. People may also have longer to wait to see their GP than they are used to, but we still want patients to come forward with any symptoms that they are concerned about, particularly those symptoms that can be signs of early cancer.”

NHS North Yorkshire and NHS Vale of York CCGs says patients who are unwell may also want to consider using other avenues of care, where appropriate.

People can consult their local pharmacy teams for expert advice and guidance, and over-the-counter treatments for a wide range of common minor ailments – it’s not necessary to make an appointment.

And anyone who has an urgent medical need and is unsure of what to do can contact NHS111 by telephone, online or via the NHS App. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can provide access to clinical advice and guidance as well as directly book patient appointments at urgent treatment centres.

Hospital accident and emergency (A&E) departments should only be used in life or limb threatening situations.