'Tired' workforce faced with people venting their frustration over primary care access in Central Bedfordshire

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'There are some practices where they're probably getting more abuse frankly because patients are frustrated at that surgery'

Two years of the pandemic and public frustration at access to GP surgeries in Central Bedfordshire has led to a "very tired" primary care workforce.

Councillors were told it has been a challenging time for staff who have dealt with "distressing" levels of abuse directed at them by patients struggling to get appointments.

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BLMK Clinical Commissioning Group associate director for commissioning primary care, Amanda Flower, highlighted the pressures when she addressed Central Bedfordshire Council's social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee on February 21.

Primary care staff are under pressurePrimary care staff are under pressure
Primary care staff are under pressure

"In the latest wave of the pandemic, all of our practices have remained open, which is excellent and testament to their hard work and resilience," she said.

"That's not without challenge. We've seen the frustrations of our population being vented on our practitioners in primary care.

"The levels of abuse sometimes received is distressing for the staff and can lead to absence and sickness, and in the worst case resignation. We're working incredibly hard to offer training and support to our staff.

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"It's often general practice that patients go back to when they're on a waiting list in secondary care. That's understandable, but creates increased pressure in primary care.

"After two years of a pandemic, and a challenging time for many of us, we have a workforce which is very tired.

"We've some staff choosing to retire having delayed that to provide support during the pandemic, and we'll see them leaving the service now.

"For some of the reasons such as the pressure and the challenges, as well as the abuse we've received from some parts of the population we're seeing staff resigning."

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Digital technology advances to meet the demands of Covid are leading to better telephone access for patients, according to Ms Flower.

"Some of our practices had poor phone systems which were troublesome for our population getting through," she explained.

"We need to communicate that your care won't always be provided by a GP, but we've a multi-skilled workforce in primary care.

"If you need to be seen face-to-face, based on clinical need, your future appointments would be, after an initial virtual appointment. We understand that's not accessible to everyone.

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"There were 131,631 appointments [in Central Beds] and just over 3,000 non-attendances in December. The percentage of face-to face appointments varied from 46 to 100 per cent.

"That variation is about workforce and space availability, and about preference, on some occasions, which we welcome."

Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion, who chairs the committee, referred to "a long considered issue" around the ability of "residents to access not just GPs, but all manner of primary care practitioners and nurses".

He said: "We hear what you say about the unfortunate bad behaviour of some people at reception, and dealing with NHS staff.

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"But the data and our residents are telling us we still have an issue with access. We want to be constructive and helpful working with the CCG.

"We're being told by our constituents they can't get appointments. We've good practices and others which are struggling to meet demand.

"We don't want to tarnish everyone with the same brush," he added. "But there are some practices where they're probably getting more abuse frankly because patients are frustrated at that surgery."

CCG accountable officer and integrated care system (ICS) executive lead Felicity Cox said: "One of the crucial things is to get more people into training in Central Bedfordshire.

"We're not training enough doctors in the UK for us to be confident about numbers for recruitment.

"The training hub is vital and we're pleased we've continuing funding for it."