'Bombarded' GPs under rising pressure, top doctor warns
PUBLISHED: 06:55 05 January 2020 | UPDATED: 09:00 05 January 2020
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A perfect storm of fewer staff dealing with Suffolk's rising and ageing population is putting GPs under more pressure - causing some to quit or cut their hours, a leading doctor has warned.
Dr Ruth Bushaway, who was recently appointed as new medical director of the Suffolk GP Federation, said that doctors are "bombarded, with reduced staff and having to take on more and more things".
On top of that, she said: "Keeping up-to-date is really difficult, because every week there's another guideline."
Even though she said new guidelines are always brought in with "really good intentions", she added: "It's quite tricky to juggle all the balls in the air. It's quite insidious."
Dr Bushaway said workload had "gone up and up and up" and that while that "most of the GPs I work with are pretty resilient people", many feel the pressure.
In January, this newspaper revealed that Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG was ranked 11th in the UK for patient-GP ratios - above the national average of 1,734.
A spokesman for the NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which are responsible for buying healthcare in the area, said GPs were doing "an incredible job despite the ever-increasing demand".
The spokesman added: "We know just how hard GPs and practice staff work for their patients," adding that the "complexities of treating people living longer with multiple long-term health conditions and the challenges of recruiting and retaining staff" are "issues affecting the NHS both locally and nationally".
The number of over-65s in Suffolk is due to grow by 47% by 2037, from 748,000 today to more than 1m in less than 20 years.
That will mean one in three people in Suffolk will be over 65, with Age UK Suffolk warning that the county could face a series of health challenges as a result.
Dr Bushaway has urged practices to work ever more closely together to share ways of relieving the pressure, something which has been seconded by the CCGs.
Dr Bushaway also praised the problem-solving skills of GPs to find solutions to the issues, in particular the greater use of the E-Consult system to book appointments online and give advice on more straightforward conditions.
She also said having mental health workers in practices helped - and that while patients should always think safety first, they should also consider whether seeing their GP is absolutely necessary.
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"I would say think about it, but safety is key," she said.
Dr Bushaway added that GPs are not always the right people to see about a problem, because nurses or pharmacists might actually be better qualified to deal with certain conditions.
The CCGs have also urged making use of "other skilled healthcare professionals, such as nurse practitioners, pharmacists, paramedics and physiotherapists to deliver care to lessen the reliance of GPs and the use of telephone consultations to reduce the need for unnecessary face-to-face appointments".
Of the pressure on GPs, Dr Bushaway said: "You have to have stamina to go through medical school and the training.
"They will try to do the best. Most people will stay over time to get the job done. There's a lot of goodwill and people will work with each other.
"People have gone above and beyond again and again."
However she went on to say: "It's a struggle. People find different ways of dealing with it but I can more than understand colleagues who feel they cannot stay with it.
"People are retiring or stopping becoming partners of practices - there are a lot of practices where you once had six partners and now they have only got one. It is really mentally stressful for those people.
"Some people are leaving or cutting their hours. Some people are going to be locums so they can control their hours.
"One of the things with primary care is that you can't say: 'No, I'm not taking any more on,' because the next one might be a heart attack.
"It's an area where there's no closing the door - someone has got to do it."
While she said Suffolk has been a good training ground for GPs, Dr Bushaway said: "A lot of people see being in Suffolk as a short-term thing."
Many want to work closer to busy cities such as London and while adverts are placed for GPs, they often get little response.
The CCGs' spokesman added: "While there is no immediate solution to these pressures, as we enter the very busy winter months we encourage people to do their bit to support their NHS and the hard-working staff.
"Keep the medicine cabinet basics at home so you are best prepared to deal with minor illness and injury and if you feel unwell go to your local pharmacy first for help and advice before making a GP appointment."