Desperate patients are turning up at overwhelmed A&E units after finding it ‘impossible’ to get a face-to-face GP appointment, health leaders have warned.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) said difficulties in seeing a GP means patients are going to emergency or walk-in services instead.
Record numbers of patients attended Accident and Emergency units over June, July and August, NHS data shows.
Last night the RCEM said this was causing ‘dangerous crowding’ in A&Es which is ‘unsafe and unconscionable and threatens patient safety’.
Health leaders have warned that patients are finding it difficult to get face-to-face appointments with their GPs which could lead to problems in A&E, picture posed by models
Last night campaigners said A&Es were becoming a ‘dumping ground’ for patients who couldn’t see a GP, which was ‘preventing hospitals dealing with real emergencies’, picture posed by models
And in a major report, the RCEM suggested a ‘lack of access to primary care’ and shift to virtual consultations is a major factor behind the unprecedented demand. It said many patients had ‘described getting an appointment to be ‘impossible’ and instead found emergency or walk-in services to be a better option for them’.
It added: ‘Small deteriorations in the number of people accessing appropriate GP consultations have the potential to put great pressure on the urgent and emergency care system.’
The report was published in August but has now emerged as the issue of face-to-face GP access has become one of major public and political concern.
The Daily Mail is campaigning for more GP appointments to be carried out in-person now legal Covid curbs have been scrapped. Before the pandemic, 80 per cent were face-to-face but now it is just 58 per cent.
Last night campaigners said A&Es were becoming a ‘dumping ground’ for patients who couldn’t see a GP, which was ‘preventing hospitals dealing with real emergencies’.
Dennis Reed of charity Silver Voices, which is calling for the legal right to face-to-face appointments, said: ‘If you ring a GP surgery you are made to jump through hoops and may be fobbed off with a phone appointment. But if you go to A&E, you may have to wait for four or five hours, but at least you will be seen that day.’
There is mounting evidence that struggles in accessing face-to-face primary care is having devastating consequences for hospitals.
According to the NHS’s GP patient survey this year, nearly one in ten who couldn’t see a GP attended A&E instead. Separate RCEM analysis found some were waiting 48 hours for a bed and half of casualty wards were treating patients in corridors, compared to just 17 per cent this time last year.
Half of emergency departments were so full they were turning ambulances away or making them queue.
Dr Katherine Henderson, RCEM president, said: ‘A shortage of beds and a shortage of staff, a decade of under-funding, under-resourcing and a lack of long-term planning has made the NHS a service that struggles to meet demand.’
Professor Martin Marshall, Royal College of GPs chairman, stressed GP numbers have fallen despite escalating workload, adding: ‘It’s wrong to suggest that GPs and other members of our team aren’t seeing patients face-to-face.’
An NHS spokesman said: ‘The NHS is committed to making primary care as accessible to patients as possible.’
Mother died of cancer after being denied appointments
A young mother who died after she was ‘repeatedly denied’ face-to-face GP appointments was only diagnosed with cancer after attending A&E.
Sharan Kullar, 34, urged her GP to see her in-person after she developed stomach cramps and began losing weight in October last year.
Her GP, at Bilbrook Medical Centre, Wolverhampton, refused face-to-face appointments, misdiagnosed her with irritable bowel syndrome and prescribed medication for depression.
Sharan Kullar, 34, urged her GP to see her in-person after she developed stomach cramps and began losing weight in October last year. Mrs Kullar, pictured with her children Jovan and Gia died four weeks after being diagnosed with bowel cancer in January
On December 18 Mrs Kullar was rushed to A&E after suffering severe bleeding. A CT scan revealed the mother, whose children were then aged one and two, had stage four bowel cancer.
She died on January 18 this year.
Her sister Nitasha Hayer, 33, said: ‘She lived for her children and wanted to battle this horrible disease to see them grow up. We want this to be prevented from happening to anyone else.’
Bilbrook Medical Centre have been contacted for comment.
No doctor visit ‘almost fatal’
Grandmother Sue Dennigan says she is lucky to be alive after collapsing with a twisted bowel.
The receptionist, 71, said the ‘refusal by GPs to hold face-to-face appointments could have cost me my life’.
She called her GP surgery, which was not holding in-person visits, after suffering abdominal pains.
After four days and an A&E trip she collapsed and was taken to hospital.
After a scan she had emergency surgery to remove her right colon.
Grandmother Sue Dennigan says she is lucky to be alive after collapsing with a twisted bowel
Source: Daily Mail UK