Medics have warned that Lancashire’s NHS is ‘overheating,’ LAURA WILD explores the combination of funding cuts, social pressures and an ageing population that has left our health services facing crisis point.
GPs across central Lancashire are ‘burning out’ as they deal with a huge rise in demand from patients and they are struggling to cope, a top health boss said today.
Peter Higgins, chief executive Lancashire & Cumbria Consortium of Local Medical Committee said GPs are working 12 hour days and pressures are resulting in delays.
It comes as the whole of the health service in Lancashire – and beyond – is feeling the pressure.
Mr Higgins said: “The picture in Lancashire shows GPs are exhausted by the work. The trouble is patients just see when doctors are doing appointments, but they have other things to do, viewing test results, chasing up hospital admissions, there’s a lot of work they have to do when they are not seeing patients.
“They are starting early in the morning at 7.30am / 8am and not finishing until 8.30/9pm at night.
“These are the stories I am hearing at a lot of practices - because they are partners and responsible they can’t just walk away at 5pm.
“They are all putting in a lot of extra hours, which you can do the odd day, but it’s getting that it’s every day.
“A lot of GPs are burning out and a lot are saying ‘I can’t stand this, I am going to retire’.”
Mr Higgins said the increase in demands on GPs has been rising over the past 10 to 12 years and he puts it down to a number of factors, including people visiting family doctors with minor ailments, those with chronic illnesses who need care and also a longer life expectancy leading to more frail and elderly people needing to see their doctor.
He said: “The fact is there are increasing expectations and dependencies from the public. Some people say they blame the Government I am not sure I do – it’s instant access to everything.
“A lot of people at the first sign of a problem go to their GP and it’s not necessary. People, particularly those with children, want reassurances, that’s one of the issues.
“Another issue is care has got a lot more complex over the years and we are dealing with a lot of people with long term conditions such as heart problems, diabetes, COPD as well as those who are recovering from cancer need ongoing care.
“And the third group is the frail and elderly. It is multifactorial.”
But it’s not just those factors that are impacting the services.
The new non-emergency 111 number has been part of the problem, Mr Higgins claims.
He said: “There are one or two things that have happened that haven’t helped. The introduction of the 111 number is stocking up demand and attendance at A&E.
“111 is operated by clerical staff using a computer to help them make decisions. It is very difficult to diagnose what is wrong with somebody over the phone.
“The clerical staff are very risk averse and are sending people to A&E all the time– that is not helping.
“The volume of people trying to get a GP appointment and the struggle to fill GP vacancies are also factors - at medical school being a GP is not a popular choice. We are struggling to get new GPs coming in and filling the vacancies. It’s a vicious circle.
“On top of that, the cuts in the social services budget are draconian.”