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'It's not safe': some Norfolk GPs have 4,000 patients

PUBLISHED: 06:00 03 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:18 03 January 2020

A shortage of doctors has left individual GPs in our region responsible for as many as 4,000 patients, figures have revealed.

A shortage of doctors has left individual GPs in our region responsible for as many as 4,000 patients, figures have revealed.

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A shortage of doctors has left individual GPs in our region responsible for as many as 4,000 patients, figures have revealed.

Harriet Sivyer praised the work of staff at Prospect Medical Centre. Picture: Harriet SivyerHarriet Sivyer praised the work of staff at Prospect Medical Centre. Picture: Harriet Sivyer

NHS data has revealed the average number of patients per GP for 104 practices in Norfolk and Waveney, with 70 per cent of surgeries above the national average of 1,721 patients per GP.

The highest figure for a surgery with at least one full-time GP was Beaches Medical Centre in Gorleston. The surgery has the equivalent of six full-time GPs, responsible for an average of 4,210 patients each.

The figures have prompted the chair of the Royal College of GPs to call on the government to urgently deliver its pledge of 6,000 new doctors before people leave the profession or burn out.

Nationally, the number of permanent fully qualified GPs in England have fallen by more than 1,000 since 2015.

The data has used the full time equivalent (FTE) to measure the hours worked by each GP to reflect staffing levels.

Some of the area's practices are branch practices or part of a wider partnership with GPs working across various sites.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "For too many GPs, workload pressures mean that the job is not do-able, meaning that patients don't receive the care they need and leading to burn out and GPs leaving the profession earlier than planned.

"It is not right or safe that some GPs are responsible for looking after so many patients, as this investigation has found - it is inevitable that this will have a stark impact on the length of time patients are waiting for an appointment."

Paston Surgery in North Walsham.  Picture:  North Norfolk CCG and South Norfolk CCGPaston Surgery in North Walsham. Picture: North Norfolk CCG and South Norfolk CCG

A spokesman for Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said GPs were not the only providers of care, and patients could access help from other health professionals.

"These days GP practices rely on a huge range of skilled clinical staff to provide patient care, not just GPs themselves.

"Our aim is for Norfolk and Waveney to be the best place to develop and train."

Boughton Surgery, in King's Lynn, was among the lowest patients per doctor, with 1,036 per GP.

Boughton Surgery had one of the lowest patient per GP. Picture: Google MapsBoughton Surgery had one of the lowest patient per GP. Picture: Google Maps

But, practice manager Steve Leadbitter said it was at its maximum and could not expand due to underfunding.

Mr Leadbitter said: "It's a very busy surgery. Although we only have 3,000 patients every clinic is full every day.

"The very big problem is under investment in premises in the NHS. It's a constant issue, we have the Government putting money into the NHS it never seems to get down to GP surgeries.

"I would love to know where these 5,000 GPs the government promise will come from.

"Stress levels are high. You have got as many practice managers as GPs taking early retirement due to the stress levels."Patients have praised the work of the area's surgeries and GPs.

Figures show surgeries across Norfolk and Waveney are in high demand, with thousands of patients per doctor.

But when this paper asked readers for their experience of surgeries and GPs, the response was positive.

Harriet Sivyer, who is a patient at Prospect Medical Practice, on Aylsham Road, said she found it very easy to get an appointment and be seen quickly.

She said: "I can either call on the day, and have always managed to get an on the day appointment providing I call early in the morning. Alternatively I use their app to book appointments in advance, and they've always had something available within the next few days I've found."

Jess Ford, who attends the St Stephen's Gate Medical Practice, was unaware she had shingles when she made an appointment before Christmas and was told by staff to come in for an urgent appointment.

She said: "I didn't know at this point, and I'd had pain for a week and I had no idea what it was. If I'd had to wait over the weekend I wouldn't have been able to take the antivirals and it would have been much worse.

"I feel horrible hearing others' experiences, especially if they need urgent care and I'm saying that if they go to their doctors and tell them that, insert medical condition here, is urgent as they'll get seen straightaway, when that simply won't be the case at their surgery. It's really frustrating."

Emma Pocknell was full of praise for Old Palace Medical in Norwich.

She said:"Old palace medical are fantastic, same day emergency appointments as well, can't fault them."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:"By expanding the workforce, harnessing technology and giving GPs the support they need, we will create an extra 50 million general practice appointments a year within the next 5 years.

"We are committed to ensuring everyone has access to world-class healthcare - wherever they live - by enshrining into law the NHS long-term budget which will see a £33.9 billion increase in cash terms by 2023-24."

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