Wigan health chief defends GPs as patients demand face-to-face appointments

A health chief has denied anecdotal reports that Wigan patients are flocking to A&E for treatment due to struggling to get face-to-face appointments with their GPs.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 1:06 pm

Attendance figures for Wigan Infirmary’s casualty department have been at their highest for the past few months since the current records began in 2015.

Wigan Observer readers have claimed this is due to people being unable to see their GPs in person, as many consultations were instead carried out over the phone due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, Dr Sanjay Arya, medical director at the hospital trust, said he did not believe this was the case..

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Dr Tim Dalton

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And now Dr Tim Dalton, a GP and chairman of NHS Wigan Borough CCG, has also disputed this.

He said: “That is not our perception, We know everywhere is really busy - A&E is busy, general practice is busy, community care is busy, mental health services are busy.

“General practices are seeing 20 per cent more now than they were two years ago, before the pandemic. We do also know that although general practice is seeing more patients, it is actually seeing them more quickly.

“Two years ago we were seeing 48 per cent in 24 hours, now it’s 62 per cent.

“We know there are a lot more patients being seen and they are being seen more quickly in general practice.”

He highlighted two large surveys carried out recently, one in Greater Manchester and the other nationally, which showed less than five per cent of people had gone to A&E because they had not been able to see their GP.

GP surgeries switched to offering more telephone and video appointments during the pandemic to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

A few patients could still see their doctors in person, but Dr Dalton says this was a small number and has grown “tremendously” since.

Surgeries are still offering a “digital triage” to many patients before they book face-to-face appointments.

But Dr Dalton says there are advantages to this - some people have returned to work and prefer not to have to go to the surgery for medical care, while it also frees up phone lines and appointments for those who cannot access help online.

He said: “It’s different and means people get a different experience. We are helping a lot more people and a lot more quickly.”

Just as Wigan Infirmary’s A&E department has been inundated with patients in recent months, more and more people are seeking help from GP surgeries.

Dr Dalton said: “There are several reasons why it is so busy.

“There are a lot more respiratory illnesses around at the moment than you typically expect.

“That’s partly because people haven’t been mixing as much, especially children, and they have been wearing masks.

“They are a bit more poorly than they would typically be, because they have not seen illnesses.

“There is then pressure around the Covid pandemic effects, where people are feeling stressed, feeling under pressure and so they are presenting now to the system with physical and mental health issues, which maybe they would have presented with earlier.

“There is also pressure due to work delayed due to the Covid pandemic, which is being caught up with, and that’s making it busier.

“We are vaccinating huge numbers of people and have only one workforce to do that.”

Health chiefs from all organisations are urging people to “choose well” when seeking treatment and make sure they go to the right place, whether that is a pharmacy, their GP surgery, A&E department or somewhere else.

Coronavirus tests should be taken if people have symptoms and there are “hot clinics” where GPs can see patients who may have the illness.

And Dr Dalton urged people to stay calm, despite their frustrations, as a rising number of patients were abusing staff.

He said: “It is a very small minority but the effect is disproportionate.

“It would be really helpful if people could be positive with their views.

“Very clearly their unhappiness is with the situation and not the person supporting them with the situation.”

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