The state of our GP service has left Annabel sick in mind and body

I am all for self-care for women, and I am not one for running to the doctor every time I have a small ache or pain. However, I feel that our GPs are there to perform a service to keep their community as fit and healthy as possible. They are the buffer for our hospitals. I also believe that by the time we reach a mature age we know our bodies and when they might need a little intervention from medical science.

When I was young, I remember that doctors made house calls, and you did not need an appointment to see them in the surgery, but you just turned up at surgery time and took your turn. Times moved on, and before Covid-19 hit, it was always quite difficult to get an appointment as GPs were overworked with too many patients. If you wanted an emergency appointment in our area, i.e. one that day, you had to get up and start dialling the surgery at 8 a.m. These appointments are like hen’s teeth and will not be given out without you undergoing a grilling about how ill you actually were, and could you wait to see the doctor in a few days. I was once asked,as the first question, on one of these early morning calls, “Are you ill?”. I was incredulous; why else would I be calling but then I was being flippant as I am sure it is one of the questions on a pre-determined list.

1950s Doctor’s Waiting Room

However, this week, I developed pleurisy, which I have had a few times, so I recognise the symptoms and know what to do. A virus or bacteria can cause pleurisy, and only the bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics. It can clear up in a few days, but if it doesn’t, one needs to contact the doctor for an examination to determine if it is a bacterial infection, in which case antibiotics are needed.

When my breathing became so painful, I contacted my surgery to make an appointment with a doctor, which is when the fun began. I was asked the normal list of questions, including, “Have you tested for Covid?”. This was not a stupid question as the symptoms are very similar; however, when I replied I had a negative lateral flow test that morning, I felt she lost interest in me. But we battled on, and at the end of the questions, the receptionist felt I did indeed need to see a doctor to get a prescription. However, I was then informed that the doctors were not doing face to face except in emergencies, but I could have a video consultation with a doctor 8 days later. At this point, my flippancy button clicked on, and I said, “But I might be dead by then.” I was duly reprimanded.

I did point out that the only way for a doctor to determine whether I had pleurisy due to bacteria would be for them to listen to my chest with a stethoscope. There was silence. So tentatively, I pointed out that this might be difficult with a video consultation. My interrogator was clearly consulting her question sheet and realised she had hit a brick wall. I might add that my humour had also run out as I was feeling pretty ill and when you have pleurisytalking can be very painful as you can only breathe in short breaths, so you feel very breathless.

By then, my interrogator had found a solution. She then told me a doctor would call but not that day as there was no doctor available. I could not work out whether that meant they had too many other patients to call or whether they were sitting on a beach somewhere trying to run their surgery from a mobile-like most of our government last week.

I do not like to complain, but at the end of that conversation, I was left with no doctor’s appointment, no medication, and still feeling like s***. I am sure the receptionist was equally frustrated.

One of the questions she asked was, ‘do you have any underlying health problems?” and when I said, ‘No’, she said, “So you’re healthy.” I pointed out that I was healthy two days ago, but now I was unhealthy hence my call to the doctor. I suppose that was not how I should have responded, but both she and I were running out of patience.

I now understand that the Telegraph has written a report on GPs flouting rules on appointments in person despite the end of lockdown and the government saying in May that doctors could go back to seeing patients. Click HERE for the article.

Anyway, I had to self-medicate, which is not ideal, and a friend who had some antibiotics kindly gave them to me, and the infection cleared up very quickly.

I am sure if I had spoken to a doctor, this could all have been avoided, and my suggestion would be that the receptionist needed a little more training in the handling of patients; perhaps she could have gone off-piste and used some common sense and not just stuck to the script.

I despair that there will be a run on these sorts of calls and an outbreak of ‘surgery rage’ with winter around the corner. Let’s hope that common sense prevails and a new, much needed post-Covid system is implemented.

P.S. Please note I think the NHS in hospitals have done a fantastic job these last 18 months and deserve much praise and thanks.

15 Comments

  1. Hi Annabel I completely agree with your article, my husband and I have each been met with a grilling from a “trained” receptionist only to be told that “ if the doctor thinks you need an appointment then they will contact you in the next few days”. Trying to get something as simple as a review of my prescriptions has been a mammoth task. Pre Covid we could book our appointments on online but now we have to wait to be called. It reminds me of the films about doctors pre NHS when they often seemed to behave as Victorian headmasters. When I explained to the receptionist that I was not able to wait on a call from the doctor in the next couple of days she seemed surprised. By this time my flippant side had also kicked in. I explained that like Doctors I work (sadly not with their salaries and pensions) and I could not take calls during work time. This seemed to be a great surprise to her, but after gritting my teeth and holding my irritation in check she said that the doctor would ring me on an appointment in 30 days in the afternoon! From conversations with people in the town where I live this is not a random experience.

  2. Poor you, and the millions who are getting treated worse than a sick animal. I am chair of our Patients Participation Group and this phone system is appalling. It excludes anyone who is deaf/mental health problems/dementia/English not their first langualge/ shy/ unwillling to talk on the phone/does not have the technology to send in photos etc – yet our GPs and especilly the Practice Manager while appearing concerned about these issues, do little to rectify the situation..Right now I feel as useful as a nodding dog in a car window (remember them?) in getting face to face to appointments for patients.Is there anything that I can do to assist you in an Annabel and Grace NO MORE PHONE APPINTMENTS WTH GPs!

    • You are very kind but I have now ordered anti-biotics from Pharmacy2U who at first asked why did I need them, and as I only wanted them for my bathroom cupboard just in case, I didn’t reply and then they arrived a few days later!! I hate taking antibiotics but if the GP service carries on like this through next winter then they are good to have to hand if I get pleurisy again. Clearly we need to learn how to self-diagnose! Annabel

  3. I just read your article out to my husband who is a Consultant Radiologist . As a senior hospital doctor he is baffled that GP’s are still not seeing patients and asking patients to wait for days even weeks for a telephone consultation. In your case the alternative he said would be to go to A&E , be seen by a junior ( often badly trained ) doctor who would immediately ask for a CT scan, which would then be reported by a radiologist who would report a small area of infection , which would probably require antibiotics. This process would also take several days . Total waste of everyone’s time and NHS money . Instead of the receptionist ( who lets face it have usually zero qualifications ) agreeing to ask the On Duty GP to produce a perscription for you , they fob you off with giving you a telephone app days later . Totally and utterly ridiculous!!

    • So glad that a hospital doctor agrees with my article. I didn’t go to A&E but I am sure others would and then it puts an unnecessary strain on the NHS hospital staff. At the age of 62 yrs I think GPs etc should understand that we know our bodies better than them so should be trusted. The anti-biotics worked immediately! Axx

  4. Same in our area of Somerset. At the start of Covid the moat was filled, the drawbridge raised and there was ‘strictly no admittance’ at our Surgery. I’ve waited 4 days before now to receive a phone call from the Dr and had to chase after 3 days with no contact. We are relying on our excellent community nurses and pharmacists while the drs still refuse face to face appointments or house calls. The system is definitely broken!

  5. This was my experience when I phoned the practice for an appointment. Receptionist ‘The doctor will ring you back’. Me: ‘when?’ Receptionist: ‘On Friday’ Me: ‘What time?’ Receptionist: ‘I told you – Friday’. Me: ‘But what time on Friday?’ Receptionist ‘The doctors hours are between 8.30 and 5.30?’ Me: ‘Please can you be more specific as I cannot wait in all day’ Receptionist: ‘If you give me your mobile number you will not have to wait in’ Me: ‘I am not prepared to have a phone consultation on my mobile when I am in a public place’. Totally demoralising.

  6. My parents who are in their 80s endured a useless service form their GP surgery, if you were asked to attend, say to pick up a prescription, questions had to be shouted through the door intercom! Eventually they gave up and transferred to another surgery that was recommended by friends, this has a better service, my Dad got to see a GP for to have his blood pressure checked and a Dr is being sent out to see my mum at home even though mum is perfectly able to visit the surgery because the Dr in the surgery has no appointments. Not a great use of the NHS but at leas they are getting seen.

  7. My husband has Parkinsons. He does not bother the GP unnecesarily but when his ankle swelled up and was painful with no explanation he tried to make an appointment. Fun starts here. Ring up, get a terse recorded message with an opening line warning you that they will not tolerate you being abusive to the staff. The message continues, telling you to go online to make an appointment. Duly go online, no appointments available for the next week. This went on for several weeks and eventually he was offered a telephone consulation with the physio who sent out a list of exercises hubby was already doing as part of his usual Parkinsons’ fitness routine. Back round in a circle with the GP. About 3 months later he got to see the GP who thought it might be arthritus and rather grudgingly did a blood test (now we know why!) which was inconclusive but offered no further treatment or investigation. At that point he gave up. Ankle is still swollen and quite painful but was more or less told to live with it.

    • Your story is a terrible reflection on our current GP service and an experience that is experienced my many at the moment. Let’s hope normal service can resume soon. In the meantime I have been taking Magnesium and that has really helped with the Osteoporosis in my hip. Have a read of the article on Magnesium that will be published later today. Best wishes, Annabel

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