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Early morning queues highlight strains on General Practice

Patients complain phone lines "constantly busy" and three week waits for appointments

Mark Gould

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The BMA and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have warned that problems at a Surrey GP practice where patients have been forced to queue before dawn to get an appointment are indicative of the strain on services due to lack of investment and rising demand.

The Sunbury Health Centre hit national newspaper headlines on Tuesday when a photograph published in theDaily Mail showed people lined up outside in the dark to get a same-day appointment. The accompanying story headlined "the queue that shames Britain" raised concerns about pressures on GP services and quoted several concerned patients who said phone lines at the 12-GP practice were constantly busy and if they did get through they were given appointments with a lead time of two to three weeks.

While patients said they had no problems with the quality of care at the practice some said more people were using local A&E services because of the surgery waiting times. Sunbury Health Centre was designed for 6,000 patients but is now serving almost 19,000 people with new housing expected to increase that number by another 4,000 over the next three years, according to the practice. In its newsletter, it complained of the council approving new housing without consulting the surgery.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA's GP committee, called the situation “yet another example of how rocketing demand and pressures on general practice are having a detrimental effect on patients, leaving patients frustrated as more and more are left waiting for an appointment.

“GP services are under unprecedented strain from rising patient demand, flatlining resources, workforce shortages and an unfunded transfer of care from hospitals into the community – something the government and NHS England have also acknowledged. It is vital that the recent commitments from politicians are followed through.”

RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker, said: “Our national family doctor service has been brought to its knees in recent years by a chronic lack of investment. Unfortunately, what we are seeing now is a sad consequence of the desperate shortage of GPs in many parts of the country.”

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