Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, has warned that patients could wait weeks for a GP appointment which pose a “serious risk” to patients. She was speaking in an interview to the Press Association.
Currently, patients are waiting three to four weeks for an appointment for “the non-urgent” cases. Dr Stokes-Lampard warned that what is classed as non-urgent now can become urgent in the future. She was particularly concerned that the colder months would impact GP practices, increasing waiting lists as practices struggle to cope.
She said, “If it’s already taking some patients two to three weeks to get in to see a GP for the non-urgent stuff, then by the time three to four weeks has passed the non-urgent stuff may be becoming urgent.
“With lumps or bleeding problems or things that could be signs of serious disease, my profound concern is that people will delay seeking help for things that could potentially be life-threatening or life-changing if they are not tackled swiftly.
“Extended waiting times pose a serious risk because of all those unintended consequences.”
Dr Stokes-Lampard highlighted that she was particularly concerned that chronic disease management maybe impacted by the demand for GP services. She pointed out that up to now the NHS was phenomenally successful at keeping people alive through the prevention of heart attacks, strokes, and the complications of diabetes. It is believed that the NHS saves thousands of people a year that would have died thirty years ago.
Many GP services are “firefighting” urgent cases and are overstretched due to government cuts.
Shadow health minister, Julie Cooper, said, “The truth is that they are overwhelmed by ever-increasing demand. Add to this a chronic shortage of GPs and a crisis in recruitment and the result is a service that is at breaking point.
“If the Government really cares about the NHS and patient safety they must listen to the words of the medical professionals because when it comes to patient health and well-being, they are the experts and ministers ignore their advice at our peril.”
Dr Stokes-Lampard, said professionalism and goodwill is all that is holding the service together.