What is going on with GP surgeries? Getting into our local one is like The Krypton Factor from hell.
There are barricades, huge “STOP!” signs, a warning to wear a mask on every available wall space, barbed wire and landmines.
Might be exaggerating the landmines but they may as well just shut up shop and go home. “Phone appointments only,” a stern recorded voice threatens if you dare to call them.
Assuming you haven’t actually died from whatever you’re calling about, by the time a human answers you’re then told that a GP will phone you back “within the next few hours”.
Why? What on earth are they doing in between? For the life of me – a phrase that takes on chilling consequences in this situation – I really don’t understand why they haven’t emerged from the original lockdown like the rest of us.
They are still operating like it’s the dark days of spring when we really didn’t know what we are dealing with and the terror of overwhelming the NHS was very real.
Six months on we are in a different place. Yet they’re not. And no one will tell us why.
Thankfully the reason I was “bothering” a health service I’ve paid into since was 18 was embarrassingly pathetic: my ears needed syringing.
No biggie, something I’d had done countless times before. So here, after 15 minutes of dire Covid warnings while on hold, is how it went when a wary sounding receptionist finally answered.
Me: “Hi I’d like to make an appointment to see the nurse for ear syringing please. I’ve been putting drops in for five days.”
Surgery: “We don’t do that now. It’s a coronavirus risk.”
Me: “What? Earwax?”
Surgery: “No it’s one of the procedures our practice manager has said is too dangerous.”
Me: “Right… but I’m almost totally deaf, what am I supposed to do? Happy to wear full hazmat suit. I just need to get it sorted.”
Surgery: “Apologies we can’t help.”
Me: “But you took stitches out of my forehead in June. That involved you being approximately two inches away from my ear. What’s the difference?”
Surgery (sounding strangely shocked I’d managed to get through their defences once already): “Ooh, did we? Sorry but this is one of the treatments we cannot currently offer.”
Me: “Could you explain why exactly? What’s the risk?” Surgery: “It’s what we’ve decided. We can recommend some good private practices that will do this for you…”
Me: “So it’s OK for a private GP, just not the NHS? Covid obviously doesn’t operate anywhere that takes credit cards then?”
Surgery: Click. End result I paid £80 at a private clinic who were perfectly Covid safe, quick and efficient. Hugely lucky that I’m financially able to do so.
What if I’d been a pensioner or just lost my job?
Hearing loss leads to depression, isolation, despair and, when there is a simple solution available, why should anyone suffer?
With one in three of us now so frustrated at the lengths you have to go to just to actually talk to a GP, let alone get to see one, or terrified off, we’re simply not bothering.
Which is kind of OK if you’re ignoring earwax but what if it’s a lump in your breast, blood in your toilet, unexpected weight loss, “tension” headaches, unexplained exhaustion or feeling a bit “blue”.
Some 450 people die of cancer EVERY SINGLE DAY in the UK and it’s estimated there will be an additional 35,000 deaths from cancer as a result of coronavirus.
GPs need to start seeing patients properly NOW. It’s easy to say “life’s too short” to hang on the phone or make yourself a nuisance at your local surgery.
But ignoring ANY symptom, no matter how silly it seems, could make that life – YOUR life – even shorter.