Patients must not be ‘left in a void’ waiting for care, expert says

Sir Robert Francis QC said over 50% of concerns about GPs submitted to Healthwatch England are about access to family doctors.

MPs have heard how patients most often complain about getting access to family doctors. PA.
MPs have heard how patients most often complain about getting access to family doctors. PA.

Patients must not be “left in a void” waiting for care owing to a shortage of GPs, a leading expert has suggested.

Sir Robert Francis QC, who is chairman of Healthwatch England, told MPs on the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that the main concern patients coming to them have about GPs is over access to care.

He suggested that people were willing to see other primary care staff instead of a GP if that was appropriate, but they wanted reassurance that staff knew about their health issues and that somebody would co-ordinate their care.

Sir Robert said “over 50%” of concerns about GPs submitted to Healthwatch are about access to family doctors, adding that “they find it difficult to book appointments, they certainly find it difficult to have a face-to-face appointment with a GP when they, the patient, feels that’s what they need.

“But there also have been issues about prescriptions, about getting referrals to the hospital and, amongst a group of people, difficulties in registration, but it is mainly about access.”

There needs to be a really sensitive triage system available with information about the choices available to people

Sir Robert Francis QC

He said patients appreciate that “the doctor isn’t necessarily always the right person to see them and they’re prepared to accept that, but I do think they need to have someone they can identify as the person who’s co-ordinating their care.”

Patients want those treating them to have the information they need so they do not need to keep repeating themselves, he added.

Sir Robert said there was a need to work on long-term staffing issues and create a system that offered a balance of medical professionals who could see patients.

In the meantime, he said the offer of remote consultations such as via video or on the phone were “not a panacea for everyone” and while they were great for some people, other patients wanted to see a GP face-to-face.

He suggested “there needs to be a really sensitive triage system available with information about the choices available to people… I do believe that is a way of saving some time”.

A stethoscope on top of patient’s files.

Sir Robert said people should not be passed from pillar to post and a member of staff should have an overview of a patient’s care so they are not “just left in a void” waiting for something to happen.

It comes after a report last month said the current NHS system for seeking care “is not fit for purpose”.

The “stocktake” commissioned by NHS England and led by practising GP Dr Claire Fuller said the current system is “fragmented and causing frustration” for patients wanting GP appointments, and also frustrates staff.

It called for a more streamlined system for the way people access NHS urgent care in England, bringing together online advice, community pharmacies, GP surgeries, out of hours, urgent treatment centres and NHS 111.

It suggested creating single urgent care teams, which include allied health professionals, community nursing teams and other specialist services to offer patients the care appropriate to them when they call a GP surgery.

They are already going to places where they feel more valued, Canada is top of their list

Dr Margaret Ikpoh, of the Royal College of GPs

Meanwhile, the Royal College of GPs told the committee that some newly qualified GPs who come from overseas are receiving letters threatening deportation shortly after qualifying.

Dr Margaret Ikpoh, vice chair of professional development at the college, also told MPs some international medical graduates faced “major financial barriers” to maintain their visa status.

“I am contacted on a regular basis by trainees who, despite the fact that we’ve spent £50,000 a year training them up – perhaps in areas of deprivation, at the end of their training they are literally going from celebrating the fact that they have become a GP to receiving letters threatening them with deportation,” she said.

“That can’t be right and it has to change.

“We have to value them better because if we don’t we will lose them.

“They are already going to places where they feel more valued, Canada is top of their list.

“It’s an easy win for us all and we have to sort it.”

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