An open letter to our patients - General Practice a difficult time - July 2021

The BMA has reported that the NHS is currently experiencing some of the most severe pressures in its 70-year history. GP surgeries across the country are experiencing significant and growing strain with rising demand, practices struggling to recruit staff, and patients having to wait longer for appointments.

Since March last year it has been a very challenging time for patients and the team at the surgery; we have adapted to deal with the changing circumstances. We adopted new ways of working and social distancing to keep everyone safe. We have also provided the option for patients to have on-line consultations via telephone, video or through econsult. Our doors remained open throughout lockdown and we have been providing face-to-face nursing and doctors’ appointments when clinically required throughout the pandemic.

From December until earlier this month we helped to staff the Sevenoaks COVID vaccination sites providing clinicians and admin support to ensure as many people as possible could be vaccinated as soon as possible. All these vaccinations were done alongside our normal work.

Our team has been working hard throughout the pandemic but with the easing of lockdown demand has increased to unprecedented levels. We receive more calls than ever before, are being asked to deal with minor issues on an urgent basis, patients are wishing to discuss multiple problems within one appointment or are asking about hospital related matters such as the long waiting time for a response to a referral rather than the correct route of contacting the hospital directly.  

 When the doctors are not dealing directly with patients they are sending referrals, reading letters from consultants about the care you have received and any follow ups required, reviewing test results and signing repeat medication prescriptions. The doctors are working harder and longer days to try and fit this all in.

All of this has the potential to lead to unsafe working and burnout within our team.  We care about our patients, recognise the frustrations you feel about waiting to get through on the phone and that our appointments get filled quickly but we do not have the resource to do more than we are doing. The government has plans to help the backlog in hospitals, but no such plans to help General Practice with this issue of capacity not meeting the current demand.

We are so grateful for all the kind words of thanks and appreciation from so many of you but saddened by the increased abuse we have all experienced and would like to remind the few that we do have a zero tolerance policy of abuse. We would also like to express our full thanks and appreciation to our practice teams, working tirelessly in both Westerham and Sundridge and we extend our thank you to the members of our patient participation group for all their support given to the practice.

The lack of resources in General Practice is a national and indeed historical problem and not something faced by The Westerham Practice alone.  We ask for your help to provide the best service we can and ensure we can support those patients in most urgent clinical need.

When a receptionist asks for details about your symptoms please provide these accurately and when offered an alternative to a doctor, please consider this. For minor ailments and injuries please consider other services, such as the pharmacy before you contact the surgery. NHS website and apps provide detailed information and advice about medical problems and when to seek help.We have a clinical pharmacist who can help with medication queries about dosage and side effects or appointments can be booked with a physiotherapist. Online econsult can be used to request repeat fitness notes, request referrals to secondary care for existing conditions or send pictures of a skin problem and request a review. We also ask that when you do have an urgent clinical need you do let us know and explain your position to help us direct our resources to where they are really needed.

Thank you all for your understanding at this challenging time.

Published: Aug 31, 2021