United Kingdom

Wife recalls how husband was hospitalised after being denied a face-to-face GP appointment

A retired taxi driver ended up in hospital with a serious infection after being denied a face-to-face GP appointment under Covid-19 ‘safety’ rules.

Since March, most GP surgeries have radically cut down on face-to-face consultations in a bid to reduce coronavirus spreading. Doctors phone patients instead, often from their own homes.

Few surgeries have resumed normal service and some remain closed, despite the virus dropping to low levels in many areas.

Lisa King, 54, from Brentwood in Essex, feared the arrangements could have been fatal for her husband Peter, 62.

Lisa King (pictured right), 54, from Brentwood in Essex, feared the arrangements could have been fatal for her husband Peter (pictured left), 62

Three weeks ago she emailed their surgery requesting an ‘urgent face-to-face appointment’ for Peter. 

He’d had ongoing pains for weeks, his stomach was ‘bloated and tender’ and he had just been ‘violently sick’. She was worried it was cancer.

Deal Tree Health Centre emailed back the following day saying ‘on this occasion’ they would grant Mr King a telephone GP consultation, which took place that day.

After asking a series of questions, the GP said Mr King probably had acid reflux and prescribed a drug. The doctor told him to get back in touch in a week’s time if he had not improved.

But Mr King did not improve and the following Sunday his condition markedly worsened. Mrs King called 999 and an ambulance arrived within 20 minutes. She recalled: ‘Peter was in so much pain he was crying. When the paramedics got here, one ask him where it hurt and suggested a physical examination. As she moved to do so, Peter flinched. She then said, “Right, you need to go to hospital immediately.” ’

At Queen’s Hospital in Romford, doctors found a gall stone lodged in his bile duct and his gall bladder badly infected and inflamed.

Mrs King recalled: ‘We were told if it had been left much longer, his gall bladder would have ruptured and caused systemic sepsis, which can be fatal. If he’d seen a doctor six days earlier, the GP would have known something was wrong – that it wasn’t just indigestion. You can’t diagnose something like this over the phone.’

She warned: ‘People will die if this lack of face-to-face consultations continues. And I don’t know why surgeries are not re-opening. Does anyone? Because I can go and get my hair done. You can go to the pub, and the gym too.

‘All those places have had to invest in PPE for their staff. Doctors are part of the NHS – they’ve got PPE provided for them. So what are they afraid of?’ Mr King has had an operation to remove one gall stone but may need more surgery for others found in his gall bladder. He has also been diagnosed with an inflamed pancreas, and been told the delay in surgery probably made matters worse.

The telephone consultation was ‘not good enough’, he said.

Last week, a survey found just one in ten GP appointments is now being carried out in person. Pictured: Stock photo of a remote consultation

‘The symptoms I was displaying required a physical examination by a GP to determine accurately what was wrong with me.’

The doctor had appeared ‘terse’ and ‘dismissive’, he said, ‘which I presume was because he thought it was only indigestion’.

Last week, a survey found just one in ten GP appointments is now being carried out in person. 

And last Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock threw his weight behind much greater use of remote appointments, dismissing those concerned as simply being ‘naysayers’.

Mr King said: ‘It seems to me that GPs are establishing a “new normal” behaviour for themselves, of phone consultations. I think it needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand.’

Last night, Dr Ken Wrixon, of Deal Tree Health Centre, said: ‘We hope Mr King makes a speedy recovery, and encourage him or his wife to get in touch with us so that we can look into this further.

‘While face-to-face appointments are available at the practice, to help keep people safe we’re offering telephone appointments with our GPs in the first instance, but encourage patients to get back in touch if they feel their condition has got worse so we can reassess whether their care needs have changed.’

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