Hot on the heels of the mental health debate in the Welsh Assembly Government last week, Health & Social Services Minister Mark Drakeford took the opportunity yesterday to announce an additional £650,000 of funding for psychological therapies in Wales. How that will pan out on the ground to help out with waiting lists of up to 6 months in some areas has yet to be seen, but it is, nevertheless, a good news story.…
However, another news report, with a somewhat bleaker outlook, also caught my attention this week. Dr Paul Myers, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that “the GP profession in Wales is at risk of crumbling in just five years unless greater investment is put into the system….” He added that issues with workforce and recruitment, as well as increasing workloads for GPs, meant morale was at rock bottom and some practices were facing closure.
Dr Myers warns that unless there is an increase in NHS funding for the profession from 7.8% to 11%, general practice in Wales could fall apart in a matter of years. This is not the first news story to highlight the crisis in the Welsh GP service… ITV reported in April this year that many GPs are reaching retirement age, and recruitment is proving challenging particularly in rural areas of Wales. Retired GP Roger Burns from Pembrokeshire drew attention to some of the issues, including this most recent story, on NHS Reality.
When people experiencing mental distress for the first time (or those close to them) contact us at our Information Service, one of the first options we suggest is that they make an appointment to see their GP. But these days that process might in itself provide a barrier to recovery.
When I have needed to see a GP in the last twelve months I have rung and been told that there is a two week wait. Last week a PAVO colleague was informed that it would take a month to see the GP of her choice! So, when I know I really need to see a GP quickly I follow a regular routine, especially if it is a Friday or Monday. I make sure I am up and by the phone at 8.30am when the surgery opens. And then I start ringing. Usually the line is engaged. Everyone else is probably doing the same! We are, in effect, competing to win the very few appointments – usually cancellations – that might still be available on that day. I might press redial fifty times before I eventually get through…but whether I will be lucky enough to get an appointment that day is another matter…
I can’t help wondering to myself… but what if the other people who are trying to get through to the surgery switchboard have a really serious problem they need to talk to their GP about… maybe they are older… or have a young child… who decides who should be seen first? No one! It is a complete lottery!
When we do get an appointment there is more waiting involved… This business of looking after our health and wellbeing is truly a waiting game. Last time I sat for 45 minutes after the time my appointment was scheduled, in a GP surgery absolutely bursting at the seams, before I saw a GP. And once I’m in there for my snatched five minute consulation I almost feel guilty for taking time out of the busy GP’s life… S/he has to see about 59 other patients that day after all…
And if you are emotionally distressed, where will just five minutes with a GP get you? Especially if you are told that the waiting time for psychological therapies could be many, many months?
So, really I’m not at all surprised to read Dr Myers’ comments… or to note that Dr Charlotte Jones, chair of the British Medical Association’s Welsh General Practitioners Committee, warned last month that general practice in Wales was in “intensive care”.
According to the Royal College of GPs - due to the sheer volume of GP workloads, in this year alone, patients will have to wait longer than a week to see their GP on at least 27 million occasions.
In another online article this week, it was reported that nurses at the Royal College of Nurses’ annual conference suggested that: "patients should be charged up to £10 a time to see their GP to deter "time-wasters" and those with minor symptoms". (On the same webpage is a link to a video called “Self diagnose illness with new apps”…..)
Would you be willing to pay £10 to see a GP if it cut down on appointment waiting times?
There is a petition – calling to save general practice Wales – on the Royal College of GPs’ website here.