Speaking at the 2022 GMC annual conference, Newham GP Dr Farzana Hussain said that patients were growing tired of waiting for care and were booking appointments at surgeries to ask about long waiting times.
Dr Hussain, a partner at The Project Surgery, said that conversations about delays to secondary care appointments were taking up a sizable chunk of GPs' time each day and sometimes led to ‘aggressive’ conversations with patients concerned about their health.
GP concerns about the volume of patient queries about delayed care warnings from the National Audit Office (NAO) and MPs about the impact on GP workload of huge delays in hospital care.
The government announced its COVID-19 backlog recovery plan in February. It aims to eliminate waits over 18 months by April 2023 and waits of more than one year by March 2025. It also launched the ‘My Planned Care’ digital platform during the same month to better support patients ahead of surgeries.
But Dr Hussain said that she was already fielding high numbers of questions about delayed care. She said: ‘When I was in clinic yesterday, a third of [it] was patients asking [about hospital care]. One of them said to me that they had an 18-month wait for the respiratory clinic and asked if that was correct. They thought that they'd made a mistake. I had to say to them that it was actually correct.
‘During the first lockdown there was a lot of understanding from patients. Now that has changed. We've all been affected and people are tired. We hear about a 6m backlog, waiting for your appointment…it sounds so long.
‘And people are upset, of course, and GPs are the face of the NHS - so patients ask what you are doing about it. Another patient was just upset and asked me if I wanted him to die of his heart problems.’
She added that patients were often ‘anxious’ about waiting for care, which sometimes led to difficult conversations. ‘Sometimes it gets aggressive between the GP and the patient because the GP might say it’s not their fault. It may not be their fault, but they also need to understand that people are very distressed at the moment,’ she said.
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid warned earlier this year that general practice will face increased pressure from the backlog in NHS hospital care for years, telling MPs that the record 6m waiting list will not start to fall until 2024.
GPs have previously reported that growing numbers of hospital referrals have been blocked and, while they are being told increasingly to use 'advice and guidance' mechanisms - criticised by doctors' groups as a 'barrier to onward referral' from general practice.
Findings from a BMA poll last month found that around nine in 10 doctors believe government plans to tackle the long waits for elective care, investigations and procedures are unachievable with the existing workforce. Polling by GPonline has also found that half of GPs said that patients at their practice had come to harm because of barriers to referrals.