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'Please bear with us' – plea from West Berkshire GPs

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Doctors in West Berkshire are caught in a perfect storm. Lack of available GPs and locums. And a 30 per cent increase in demand.

“We are all working really hard – we are so committed to delivering patient care but are contained by capacity," said Dr Ellora Evans. "Ninety percent of capacity is probably taken up by 10 percent of patients."

She is a GP at Hungerford Surgery and clinical director for the West Berkshire Rural Primary Care Network.

Dr Ellora Evans
Dr Ellora Evans

“With an ageing population, some of those issues are complex and take longer to diagnose and treat," she added.

"There are often social factors – and we notice the strain social services are under here. There seems to be a shortage of carers too – it is an expensive place to live.”

The Hungerford surgery has around 7,500 patients, with five doctors. It, along with other surgeries in its group at Kintbury and Lambourn, are adapting their offer to cope.

“Our working model is changing,” Dr Evans said. “Not everyone who contacts us needs to see a GP, but they may need other, more focussed help. We now have additional roles such as pharmacists, physiotherapists – and we are bringing in a mental health practitioner.”

She says there has been in sharp increase in stress and anxiety among patients, and points to the pandemic for this.

“For all of us the last 18 months have been extraordinary," she added. "We are dealing with a fallout now which has increased demand in primary care.

“We have catching up to do. Patients can access us online but we also offer face to face and telephone appointments which actually means we have increased accessibility.

“Previously, it would have taken weeks to get to see a doctor, but by opening our digital front door it has increased accessibility to us.

“It is harder for us as doctors if a patient is not sitting in front of you, so we often spend longer on phone consultations because of this.

“The demand for seeing GPs face-to-face underlays that it is a positive thing that people trust in their GPs in that there is a relationship built up over time there. But there are not enough GPs to be able to deal with everything."

Dr Evans says the push to the GP service from hospitals to deal with things like diabetes has added more pressure. And she says the backlog in people getting hospital care is creating further demand.

“For example, an urgent neurological referral can take up to eight months," she explained. "For something like osteoarthritis, that can be as long at 18 months. So in the interim time, those people keep coming back to us for help until they can be picked up by the hospitals.

“We need more time to do our job properly.”

Dr Evans starts her day at 8am and is often home by 9pm having seen or spoken to more than 30 patients in the day. Then there are blood test results, prescriptions and 20 to 30 letters a day to deal with.

“We do try to get round everyone,” she added. “We don’t want patients to feel removed from GPs.

“All I can say is please bear with us. We are doing our best.”

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