The GP shortage crisis has left desperate patients struggling to even get a surgery on the phone for an appointment, ITV News North of England reporter Kelly Foran reports
A 22-year-old woman trying desperately to get a GP appointment found herself calling at 8am every day for months - only to end up a number in the queue.
Louise Ogden was repeatedly unable to speak a GP to seek help for her depression - so was forced to go to A&E.
She has received the help she needs now, after hours and days spent on hold.
But she fears the GP staffing crisis could prove dangerous.
Asked how bad things could have gotten had she not received the help she needed, Louise told ITV News: "I think I'd be really struggling, and I'm really glad that I went when I got the chance to, because now I'm getting the help, and now I'm feeling better.
"But unfortunately, saying this quite bluntly, I wouldn't be alive. It shouldn't take somebody feeling suicidal or somebody contacting a crisis team to get support."
ITV News visited a doctor's surgery where phones were ringing off the hook.
Oldham GP Dr Bal Duper said the shortage was overloading doctors, sparking a vicious cycle - where doctors unable to cope with the pressure left in droves.
Dr Bal Duper tells ITV News overworked and under-pressure GPs are fleeing the profession
The sector could not replace departing GPs fast enough, worsening the staffing gap.
"It's really stressful," the doctor said. "I've seen my colleagues who are the same age as me, who I would recognise as probably some of the best GPs and most highly experienced are leaving the profession, not just in single numbers - but tens and twenties."
MPs are accusing the government and NHS leaders of failing to protect the doctor-patient relationship, which they say should be at the heart of general practice.
They say health bosses are failing heed the evidence on the importance of continuity of care, hastening the decline of a uniquely important relationship between a GP and their patients, amid the growing GP shortage. They warn that seeing your GP should not be like phoning a call centre or 'booking an Uber driver,' never to be seen again - as patients up and down the country complain they are struggling to get face-to-face appointments.
Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Rachael Maskell MP, said GPs were working harder than ever to serve their communities - but government intervention was needed to help them meet patients' needs.
MPs say a doctor-patient relationship is essential for patient safety and patient experience.
In a scathing recent report, the Health and Social Care Committee of MPs accused the Government and NHS England of being "reluctant" to acknowledge the issues in the system. As such, problems are not being resolved with "sufficient urgency", they warned.
The government's pledge for all patients to see a GP within two weeks would "not address the fundamental capacity problem causing poor GP access", the group of MPs said.
The MPs' recommendations:
The government and NHS England must acknowledge the decline in continuity of care in recent years and make it an explicit national priority to reverse this decline.
NHS England should introduce a national measure of continuity of care to be reported by all GP practices by 2024.
NHS England should re-implement personal lists in the GP contract from 2030 onwards. -1,000 additional GP training places each year should be created with Government funding.
Government and NHS England should be clear in acknowledging a crisis in general practice and set out steps they are taking in response in the short term to protect patient safety, improve access and reduce GP workloads.
Urgent work needs to be done to stop a bidding war for the services of locums.
An NHS spokesperson said: "We have expanded the primary care workforce by 19,000 since 2019, with more new roles such as GP assistants and digital leads introduced from this month to help patients get the right kind of help from the right professional when they need it, and give family doctors more time to spend with those patients who need them most.
"Thanks to this additional investment, GPs and their teams have provided 10% more patient appointments this year compared to pre-pandemic, and we continue to implement plans to further improve patient access, experience and care."
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