The concerns were raised at a meeting of Blackpool Council’s Adult Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee
Not being able to get through to their GP is leaving Blackpool residents feeling ‘isolated’ and ‘frustrated’, medical chiefs in the town have been warned.
Many residents are converging on A&E if they cannot get an appointment at their local surgery – adding to pressures at the Emergency Department at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
But GPs are struggling to meet demand – with an increase in calls to surgeries and difficulty recruiting new doctors adding to the existing challenges they face.
The concerns were raised at a meeting of Blackpool Council’s Adult Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee when councillors quizzed health bosses about what was being done to address the situation.
Committee chairman Coun Adrian Hutton said: “People are isolated, sitting at home and not feeling well and they are trying to get hold of someone and it is so frustrating.”
Coun Maxine Callow said she had been contacted by many elderly constituents who were struggling to see a doctor.
She said: “Older people are ringing their GP and being told they are 19th in the queue.
“They are already feeling very depressed because of other issues, such as going to the supermarket and the shelves are sparse.”
Dr Neil Hartley-Smith, executive clinical director for Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre CCGs (clinical commissioning groups) told the committee his surgery – Bloomfield Medical Centre – had seen an increase in calls for appointments this year.
He said during a typical Monday morning in summer 2019, his surgery would receive around 100 calls from patients seeking an appointment that day.
But this year the number of calls has increased by between 25 and 30 per cent.
Dr Hartley-Smith said: “It is challenging at the moment getting through to surgeries and getting appointments, and this is because surgeries are much busier than they were.”
He said doctors and nurses were having to cope with additional demand on top of “all the people who need their chronic diseases managing, or the dressings that need doing or the vaccinations, and health checks that still need doing on adults with learning difficulties and on children.”
However he said steps were being taken to resolve this issue with NHS England having just published a paper “with some measures that might be taken to improve access to primary care”.
These include increasing funding for urgent care centres, and better monitoring of surgeries to ensure they are not relying too heavily on the NHS 111 helpline.
Dr Hartley-Smith said the “pendulum was swinging back” towards more face-to-face appointments with GPS, although telephone consultations remained beneficial for some patients.
He said: “For some people it may be more convenient to have a telephone conversation with their GP before seeing them.
“For example the GP may be able to arrange some tests so when they see the patient they are more informed, to give an answer there and then.
“But there are some cases where you need to see someone face-to-face. You cannot examine an abdomen over the telephone, you have to put your hand on it.
“The rebalancing needs to happen. The pendulum may have swung too far but I think it’s coming back.
“We never stopped seeing patients face-to-face but levels are now over 50 or 60 per cent and that’s the right thing.”
However he admitted recruitment of new doctors and nurses was one of the biggest challenges.
He said: “Traditionally GP services have had difficulty recruiting GPs to the Fylde coast. We are not as attractive as the likes of the big cities.
“If I was to locate my surgery in the middle of Manchester, I could recruit 10 GPs just like that and as many nurses as I needed.
“Whereas in Blackpool we struggle and that was recognised by NHS England a few years back. Extra investment was put in at that time.
“Unfortunately that did not have the desired effect of bringing people in. In order to make that recruitment more successful we need to make ourselves more attractive and start looking at the roles we can change.”
It is hoped a new £8m surgery in Adelaide Street in Blackpool town centre, which got the go ahead last month will help in the recruitment of GPs by offering the latest facilities including training facilities.
Councillors also raised fears more people were going to A&E if they could not get a GP appointment, and said this could be made worse by the fact there are GPs available at the hospital.
But Dr Hartley-Smith said this had always happened, but new measures were being put in place to get “the most appropriate clinician seeing these patients as they arrive.”
At the end of October a new Emergency Department Streamer Scheme will replace the former reception ” to enhance more effective triage” and deflect patients away from A&E, thus reducing pressure on the department.
Changes were also being made to hospital patient discharge processes in order to include district nurses in the decision-making process.
Dr Hartley-Smith said: “This means it is not just the hospital saying someone should be discharged, but also the district nurses who know the social situation of a patient.
“They know if there are wrap-around services or family support available, because if that’s not available a patient can be readmitted sometimes in hours and that’s traumatic for them.”