Doctor shortages cut deep

Picture: PA Media

THE nationwide problem of doctor shortages and the social care crisis is being felt close to home, as patients in Tunbridge Wells have been struggling to get necessary medical attention and make doctor’s appointments with their GP surgeries.

Some residents in Tunbridge Wells have reported waiting weeks for appointments.

A patient who is under the care of Kingswood Surgery, in Kingswood Road, was given a three-week wait for a telephone consultation with a completely new doctor after being discharged from the hospital earlier that week.

Mrs Rosslyn Bristow-Bovey, 82, suffers from lung disease. After spending a week in hospital suffering heart and lung complications, she was released on the first day of the junior doctors’ strikes. She was informed that she would need to book an urgent appointment with her GP within three days to check her vital signs. However, when she phoned her surgery to make an appointment, she was offered a phone appointment with a doctor she didn’t know – three weeks later.

She told the Times “The hospital told me that my vitals, my heart, lungs, and blood pressure, would need to be reassessed in 72 hours, but when I called the GP, I was told that a doctor would call me on the telephone in three weeks’ time.

“It’s just crazy. I was so taken aback. You can’t do an assessment over the phone, what good is that?

“I was also told that I would be seen by a new doctor because my doctor left, and they have changed all the patients around,” Ms Bristow-Bovey explained.

“It made me feel uneasy because I want to speak to someone who knows my condition, but I just feel like I’ve been blown aside.”

The Kingswood Surgery currently has a ‘Good’ rating by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), as do all the surgeries in Tunbridge Wells.

However, Mrs Bristow-Bovey is not alone, as GP practices across the country are feeling the pressure to meet patient demand as more people need care and doctors continue to leave the profession.

In February 2023, the NHS Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board reported that of the 865,149 appointments made that month, 41.6 per cent were seen the same day.

This is an improvement from October 2022, when a record 1,036,644 appointments were made, and just 36.7 per cent of patients were seen the same day.

A spokesperson for NHS Kent and Medway said: “All GP practices across Kent and Medway are working harder than ever to support patients in the best possible way, and, having never been busier, offered more than 10 million appointments last year.

“Patients are given appointments based on their clinical need and these are made with the most appropriate clinician, including nurse, GP or physiotherapist.

“There continues to be huge demand on the NHS since the pandemic and we are working hard to make sure we provide the best care for all patients.”

While the numbers of patients being seen shows a slow improvement, surgeries are having to take action to protect their current patients by closing to, or limiting new patients.

Lonsdale Medical Centre in Clanricarde Gardens, announced an ‘informal list closure’ as of March 15. This means they will only be accepting new registrations from children and family members of existing patients.

Rusthall Medical Centre said that it is “not currently registering new patients until further notice”, and the Crane Surgery, in Cranbrook, said it was now “open but full, which means that we are not currently registering new patients”.

Paddock Wood-based Woodlands Health Centre has announced limitations to new patients, citing “difficulties recruiting an adequate number of doctors”.

Doctor numbers in the NHS have been shrinking over the last eight years, with 2,087 fewer GPs than in 2015.

According to the British Medical Association (BMA), as of February 2023, there were 36,511 individual fully-qualified GPs working in the NHS in England, with 27,277 of those in full-time equivalent (FTE) 37.5 hours a week.

Also impacting surgeries is the need for improved social care as the country’s population continues to age.

A recent report by AgeUK said: “When care is rationed for older people, those pressures will ultimately bear down on the NHS, and particularly our hospitals as we have seen this [past] winter.

“This is therefore a terrible false economy in the charity’s view, reflecting how thresholds for support have risen as a result of Council budget shortfalls.”

Kingswood Surgery and the NHS Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board were both approached for comment.

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