A HENLEY GP is quitting medicine because of the pressure of work.
The female doctor works at the Hart Surgery, which last year wrote to patients to apologise for delays in making appointments, blaming the GPs’ workload, staff shortages and cuts in government funding.
Her departure was revealed by Dr Philip Unwin, senior partner at the surgery, just days after the country’s top GP said she was “profoundly concerned” by the pressures facing surgeries, especially in the winter.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said millions of patients were waiting up to four weeks for an appointment, which could put them at “serious risk”.
Dr Unwin said Henley was lucky in that both the Hart Surgery and the Bell Surgery were training practices so doctors were “coming through”.
“At the Hart Surgery we have managed to get waiting times down to reasonable levels,” he said. “We will see anybody the same day if they want to be seen that day but we can’t guarantee it will be a particular doctor. We have very few complaints about our waiting times.
“It’s always busier over the winter. Having a cough or cold is not a reason to go to the doctor and expect antibiotic treatment but some people still do. The good thing is that doctors don’t tend to take holidays. We know more people are going to be ill in the winter so we allow for it and get on with it.”
However, Dr Unwin revealed: “We are under considerable pressure. The Government is putting us under financial pressure and we have a huge amount to cut the budget by.
“I know of two very good young doctors who are giving up medicine because they have found the pressures they are under completely unacceptable. One of those is at our practice and we are going to miss her enormously — it’s such a waste.”
Dr Andrew Burnett, senior partner at Sonning Common Health Centre, said: “We are coping okay. Most people are sensible and are getting self-help for coughs and colds so we are largely seeing the people we need to see. We try tto see patients the same day or within seven days for a routine appointment.
“We got in some extra staff because we knew it was going to be difficult and we are holding our heads above water but across Oxfordshire I know the hospitals have been very busy.”
Dr Burnett, who is also urgent care lead at the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “I’m trying to make sure all the surgeries in South Oxfordshire stick to within seven days for a routine appointment, although that might not be with your regular doctor.”
He said funding cuts had increased the pressure on surgeries and patients were still making appointments when they could treat themselves at home.
He said: “The amount of NHS funding into general practice has shrunk from 11 per cent to eight per cent. People are getting older and living longer and need extra help. The number of over-85s in Oxfordshire is going up to a very high rate, which we welcome but it’s a massive extra workload.
“One of the other factors is that people have a much lower threshold for going to the doctor now and are less confident about looking after themselves. People should really be able to manage themselves with common sense or speak to a pharmacist.”
Dr Simon Morris, executive partner at the Goring Surgery, said there were not enough doctors nationwide to cope with the workloads and GPs were retiring faster than they could be replaced.
He said: “A lot of the practices in this area are training practices and the people training end up wanting to work here, so recruitment in South Oxfordshire is very good compared with places like Reading.
“If people are flexible enough we can see them within a week in Goring. For example, last week we had appointment slots with half of the doctors. What is difficult is if patients want to see a particular individual.
“The situation is definitely worse in winter as we have more patients but also our staff can get ill. It’s unusual to have a week at this time of year without someone having time off for illness.
“The single biggest factor is that living standard and healthcare are better, so people are living longer. That means they tend to accumulate more health problems and are more difficult to look after.”
In March last year, the Hart Surgery sent an email to patients entitled “GPs in crisis”, apologising to those who had experienced difficulty in getting an appointment and urging them to complain to their MP.
The surgery said it was becoming “increasingly difficult” to maintain a high standard of patient care and access on a “shoestring”.”