‘The GP said it could be constipation. At the hospital they told me I was heading towards sepsis’

When Robert King, 62, started to show signs of minor blood pressure issues, he got

When Robert King, 62, started to show signs of minor blood pressure issues, he got in the virtual queue at 8:30am to book a telephone consultation with his GP.

“It takes ages to get the call answered in the first place. It’s incredibly time-consuming and totally un-customer focused,” Mr King, the director of the promotional and corporate merchandise company, said.

At his surgery, when you do eventually get through to a receptionist, patients are expected to await a call back – usually within a two-hour slot – which, for Mr King, “assumes that you have the time to sit around and do nothing”.

“What happens if you want to go to the loo, or someone else calls you, or there is a knock at the front door and you miss the call back? You then have to start the whole process off again.”

When he was eventually instructed by his GP to come in for an in-person appointment, he was shunned for not having his own blood pressure monitor and was encouraged to take his own readings and email them in.

“It just seems like GPs want to do as little as they can and get involved as little as possible with our health concerns. The quest to keep the nation healthy cannot be handled by patients themselves, A&E and the 111 helpline.”

‘I was shoved off a cliff’

Helen Chambers had an appointment to see her GP about her anxiety booked in for March 2020. With the pandemic in full flow, she was told this appointment had been cancelled and was advised to call the surgery in two days’ time. “When I did, they said there were no appointments,” says the 49-year-old finance manager.

“I was suffering very badly with my anxiety at that time. I’d been very stressed and my GP had tweaked my medication and said to return in a fortnight for a follow-up appointment to make sure everything was settling down.”

It was this follow-up that was cancelled. “I didn’t get anything else until recently,” she says. “I was shoved off a cliff. It’s a support issue.”

She has spent the past few weeks trying and failing to book an appointment with a specific doctor, something she feels can be crucial for those with mental health issues. “You build a relationship with GPs,” she says. “Having a specific GP to talk to is quite important.”

Before Covid, this wasn’t a problem and she didn’t struggle to book an appointment with her own GP when needed. But things have changed since. 

In the end she spoke to a different doctor on the phone this week. “She was lovely and able to help me,” she says. “But I benefit from seeing people face-to-face. I’ve had three one-and-a-half-hour appointments with my dentist [during the pandemic] but I can’t sit face to face with a GP.”

At 14 months, a son who still can’t walk

Pollyanna de Lima had her second child in March 2020. When he was four months old, his big toe became red and swollen and sometimes issued discharge. “I tried many times to get an appointment with a GP and couldn’t,” says the 37-year-old economist.

When she finally managed to book a video call with a doctor, she was advised to massage the area and soak her baby’s foot in warm water. “It didn’t help,” she says. “I called [the surgery] a couple more times and was told that because it wasn’t an emergency I couldn’t see anyone. At my practice, it still says ‘emergencies only’.”

The last time she called was about three weeks ago, still seeking help for the same problem. Antibiotics were prescribed, but they didn’t resolve it. Ms de Lima, who has now sought private healthcare instead, has been left feeling worried that at 14 months her son still can’t walk. “When he’s crawling he doesn’t use that leg for support, he drags it.”

‘I’m not getting any answers’

Chris Mann has a heart condition that leaves him breathless. Despite this, he has been trying to get a face to face meeting with a GP for over a year.

“I’ve got issues I can’t get answered with the doctor because I like to see people face to face,” says Mr Mann, 64. “I have no confidence when I talk to somebody over the phone.”

Mr Mann’s family has a history of heart problems and his father needed surgery. He fears he might also need treatment but will find out too late.  “I’ve got a narrowing aortic valve, and the other two are leaking,” he says. “I’m knocking on people’s doors, but I’m not getting any answers.”

He says the whole situation has left him frustrated with GPs. “If they think this can go on for ever, it can’t.”

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