A GP has penned an open letter to her patients amid 'unprecedented demand' at her practice, sharing the reality of 14-hour days amid a 'recruitment crisis' in the NHS.
Dr Rebecca Locke, a GP partner at Heaton Moor Medical Group, took to social media to try and quell 'frustrations' from patients asked to book a telephone appointment before being seen in person.
The doctor's words come as primary care staff have been the victims of increasing 'abuse', according to Greater Manchester health bosses, in a report on the region's NHS pressures released today.
READ MORE:Mum-of-three felt 'funny' celebrating dad's birthday - then she got a devastating diagnosis
Dr Locke posted a statement on the Heaton Moor Medical Group's Facebook page, assuring patients that the group 'are not closed'.
The letter reads: "Dear patients,
"I am writing as one of the partners at Heaton Moor Medical Group to reassure you that we are not (and never have been) closed! In fact we are working harder than ever to manage the current unprecedented demand.
"We feel some of the media attention at the moment isn’t really explaining how hard we are working and why some of the appointments are still over the phone.
"Here is a snapshot of my working day pre and post-Covid which I hope will illustrate why we are practicing very differently now. At Heaton Moor Medical Group we have over 30 GPs and 4 advanced practitioners and their workloads would also look very similar."
The GP goes on to describe how her workload has increased in the wake of the pandemic, becoming 'usual' for her to be working '12 to 14 hour days'.
But the new way of working, including consultations over the phone, has allowed her to see more people, says the doctor.
"Pre-Covid, it was common for me to see 32-36 patients face-to-face, and speak to another 4-6 over the phone," continued Dr Locke.
"My days were usually about 10-11 hours long. The wait to see a GP was usually about 1-2 weeks. At times our waiting room was packed; with standing-room only.
"On Monday this week, I consulted 72 patients over the phone. The vast majority had rung the surgery the same day; a small minority within the two working days before.
"On speaking to 62 of these patients, we mutually agreed that their problem had been helped over the phone (or sometimes with pictures and a text back). In conversation with 10 patients we agreed a further physical examination or face-to-face discussion was necessary.
"I arranged to see eight myself that day in safely managed and distanced face-to-face appointments. A further two patients (due to their work or other commitments) opted to wait until later in the week. I had one home visit and also had hundreds of repeat prescriptions to review and sign, and results, letters and emails to review and action.
"Currently it is usual for my working day to be 12-14 hours long."
Without telephone consultations, the wait to see a GP with the current demand would be 'over a month', warned the doctor.
"Taking into account current government resourcing for staff and premises and the health care worker recruitment crisis; if our default was to see all of those 72 patients face-to-face your current wait to see a GP a would be over a month and increasing exponentially all of the time," she continued.
"This may cause harmful delays in diagnoses of serious conditions like cancer."
Dr Locke also revealed that a 'hot clinic' could close by the end of the month, due to the withdrawal of Covid response funding from the government, she added.
"Despite currently rising Covid cases, the government cannot continue to fund some of the Covid-specific healthcare services and so as of the end of September, there is a possibility that in Stockport our ‘hot clinic’ at Mastercall will cease to exist.
"This will mean that we will need to carefully consider how we safely see more unwell Covid patients alongside our more vulnerable patients with long term conditions in our own premises.
"Obviously, we also need to finish off our over 50s and vulnerable patients flu campaign and start on Covid boosters within the next couple of weeks too.
"Our nursing team continue to offer face-to-face appointments for physical tests such as smears, blood tests and ECGs as usual and have done throughout the pandemic."
As winter demand for doctors rolls in with the weather, the Stockport doctor has asked for 'understanding' amid 'unprecedented demand'.
"I hope some of the above has shown that we are trying to do our best to make sure all our patients can safely access the right help when they need it," says Dr Locke as she signs off the open letter.
"We realise that being asked to make a phone appointment first is sometimes frustrating if you feel you do need a physical examination or a face to face discussion. However it allows us to help more safely manage this unprecedented demand.
"In return we ask that you please pause briefly just to consider whether you really do need to speak to a GP.
"Particularly if you have a short term illness such as a sore throat or tummy bug, consider using NHS online to check your symptoms and see if a GP appointment is the best place to get help.
"If the answer is yes, then of course we will help you. Please be considerate to our team, who are working harder than ever to try to help people despite the adversity.
"Thanks so much for your understanding and my best wishes to all in these difficult time - Dr Rebecca Locke. GP Partner, Heaton Moor Medical Group."
In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We’re hugely grateful to GP practices for their hard work and dedication to bring appointment numbers back to pre-pandemic levels, with over 330 million delivered in the last year.
“The NHS has been clear GP practices must provide face to face appointments, alongside remote consultations, and over half of all appointments in July were face to face.
“We are investing £270 million to expand GP capacity, on top of providing £1.5 billion to the sector until 2023/24 to deliver world-class care to patients.”