Four GPs for 15,000 people - inquest reveals extent of the NHS crisis

Credit: MEN Syndication

A lack of NHS resources is putting GP surgeries under so much pressure patients are fighting just to get phone appointments - and doctors are being coaxed out of retirement to meet demand.

Dr Joanne Chew warned that dozens of people queued round the block of her surgery in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, because of a 'mad rush' on all 14 phonelines when the practise opened at 8.30am.

She was speaking at an inquest into the death of Christopher Fairhurst, 26, who died from alcohol poisoning after battling depression in December last year.

The inquest heard the practice serves 14,000 to 15,000 patients, but has been operating for the past few years with four or five GPs.

Coroner Lisa Hamshi recorded a conclusion of misadventure, but Mr Fairhurst's family claimed he was ofter 'twentieth in the queue' when he tried to book a GP appointment.

The inquest heard that mental health services are particularly stretched, prompting Mrs Hamshi to raise concerns about under-fire services,

The coroner claimed the ‘knock-on effect’ of the NHS funding crisis is seen ‘day in and day out’ in courts like hers.

Mrs Hamshi said she was satisfied with the care provided by doctors at Edenfield Road Surgery, but said she was concerned about the strain on surgeries - and a critical shortage of GPs across the country.

To cope with demand, the practice needs four more, according to Dr Chew, who said pressure began to mount when three GPs left in 2014.

Dr Chew said: “We are struggling, we need more money, input and support.

“We are trying to get GPs out of retirement or put off retirement.

“If we had enough GPs for face to face appointments we wouldn’t have to resort to phone appointments. You can’t rush mental health.

“It was decided to improve access, rather than do traditional face to face appointments we would have a phone consultation with a doctor. A lot of us don’t agree.

“It was like a snowball, we couldn’t keep up with demand. Things have moved on a bit we are still at capacity at the moment.

“Ideally the government would give us a lot more money, we would need another four well-trained GPs.”

Dr Chew said bosses have been looking for a new GP for two years, but have not received a single application.

She said that despite having 14 phone lines, there was a ‘mad rush’ to book appointments when they opened at 8.30am.

Patients, she said, could often be seen queueing ‘35 around the block’.

The hiring of a nurse practitioner, a clinical pharmacist and a GP to do up to 50 phone consultations a day has helped staff cope, but the surgery is still overstretched.

The inquest heard that Mr Fairhurst had a history of depression and had previously taken an overdose.

Mr Fairhurt's grandfather, Alan Capper, said callers to the surgery were often told they were ‘twentieth in the queue’.

Mr Fairhurst’s family earlier raised concerns about his care, but following the coroner’s conclusion, agreed the NHS simply needs more funding.

Coroner Mrs Hashmi is set to send a ‘prevention of future deaths’ form to the Department of Health.

Mrs Hamshi told the inquest: “I find it deeply saddening there is a lack of psychological resources.

“We have heard from a GP how under pressure clinicians are. The retention and training of doctors is a problem.

“There are a number of difficulties faced by the public sector in terms of resources.

“The knock-on effect is what I see day in and day out with the job I do.

“Regrettably I see far too many young people in the circumstances of this case.

“I realise how difficult cuts are for those trying to provide care.

“It is not just a job, it is a vocation, art and science.

“I can only hope sooner rather than later public services find themselves in a far better position to help all of the people they aim to help.”