The doctors at Botesdale Health Centre are writing to all of our patients to explain some of the difficulties that all general practices across the country are facing, how this has impacted us and how you can help.
You will be aware that the coronavirus pandemic has led to considerable changes in the way that GP services are delivered. At our Practice, we have continued to see patients face-to-face when necessary throughout the pandemic and we will, for now, be continuing our total triage system of assessing patients’ problems remotely before deciding with the patient on the best course of action. Whilst this system has the advantage of protecting the most vulnerable from COVID infections it is also now the only fair way by which we can allocate a limited resource to those who need it most.
Currently we are seeing an unprecedented increase in workload, far exceeding capacity, as well as dealing with the effects of the backlog of hospital work that has built up as a result of the pandemic, an effect felt throughout the country. All this while also preparing for the prospect of an expanded influenza programme and against the background of significant difficulties recruiting clinical staff. A more detailed explanation of the statistics behind the increasing demand:capacity mismatch can be found on page 2 of this letter.
We wish to continue providing a high standard of care in a timely way, prioritising those patients in most urgent need and do not want patients to be put off consulting us for serious and worrying health concerns. In order to help us try and maintain services to those most in need of them, we need your help in the following ways:
- Please consider whether self-care or self-referral is an option for you or a family member. A non-exhaustive list is found on page 2 and includes access, amongst others, to NHS physio, podiatry and mental health help without GP referral. It is worth remembering that we receive reports to the Practice from many of these services concerning the actions that they have taken to help individual patients.
- Be patient with our staff – they are trying their best to allocate a precious resource under difficult circumstances.
- Be aware that modern GP practice teams consist of an increasingly wide range of different healthcare professionals who have been trained to treat a wide variety of conditions. Our receptionists may direct you to these members of the team so as to reserve GP consultations for complex or difficult cases.
- Remember that whilst we have no influence, except in rare cases of extreme deterioration, or up-to-date information on, hospital waiting lists. The hospitals themselves are more accurate sources of this information. To this end the West Suffolk Hospital has a dedicated helpline (01284 713713) for patients allowing patients to check on progress with dates for their procedure/operation and similar information can be accessed for Ipswich Hospital via the patient portal.
- Use our online consultation tool as your first point of contact with the practice
We are grateful to our medical, nursing, administrative, dispensing and reception staff for the hard work and long days that they are working at this time and also to you, as patients, for showing patience & understanding over the past 18 months.
Thank you for reading this letter.
Drs MacEachern, Fennelow & Bate
Appendix 1: Demand and Capacity in General Practice
General Practices across Suffolk provide large numbers of appointments. Appointment data provided by the NHS shows that practices in this region consult the equivalent of between 40% – 50% of the entire population each month.
This occurs against a background of falling GP numbers and practices. Nationally we have lost 1,904 FTE GPs since 2015; with the fall in GP partner numbers forming a high proportion of those lost to the profession. As a result there are just 0.46 fully qualified GPs per 1000 patients in England – down from 0.52 in 2015. In the same timeframe the average number of patients per practice has increased by 24% and medical complexity, an aging population and pressures created by limited hospital capacity mean that the time needed per patient interaction has also increased.
Appendix 2: Sources of healthcare available to you without GP referral
Community pharmacists and chemists – highly trained and experienced, able to help with a range of minor complaints including colds, congestion, earache, sore eyes, bites and stings, hay fever, short-term joint pains and strains, skin rashes, sore throats and constipation/diarrhoea.
NHS physio services (Allied Health Professionals) – patients can self-refer for more persistent joint and back pains and receive an expert assessment and advice/treatment. Advice on self help, including videos of how to treat most common joint conditions, are available via the AHP website. Referral to the service itself is via https://physioselfrefer.co.uk or telephone 0333 043 3966
Mental health problems – Anxiety, stress or depression can often be helped by contacting Suffolk Wellbeing, an NHS service accessed online or by telephone on 0300 123 1503 (Mon – Friday 8am – 8pm). Digital tools and advice such as found on the NHS website and via apps, such as Headspace and Smiling Mind, can also be very helpful
For younger patients aged 11 -25 years old, there is an NHS service called the Emotional Wellbeing Hub, contacted by telephone on 0345 600 2090 (Monday – Friday 8am – 7.30pm) and an online resource – Kooth
Support for parents struggling to help their child/teenager with mental health or behavioural problems is available via the parent hub
Foot problems can be treated by Suffolk Podiatry
Sexual health and contraception are provided by iCash or some local pharmacies.
Social prescriber service – Lifelink provides a free service offering the following:
- debt and benefits advice
- volunteering opportunities
- health and fitness groups, such as walking, cycling and dance
- support groups
- arts and culture groups
- history groups
- sports clubs and activities.