St Albans patient group chair crunches local surgery GP numbers

Do patients in St Albans face a postcode lottery when booking GP appointments? Picture: Archant

Do patients in St Albans face a postcode lottery when booking GP appointments? Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Do patients in St Albans face a postcode lottery when booking GP appointments?

Headlines around the country have been dominated this week by news that the number of GPs is in decline for the first time since the 1960s.

The Nuffield Trust thinktank found that there were 65 GPs per 100,000 people in 2014, but last year this fell to 60.

In light of the news, chair of The Maltings Surgery Patient Group, Alan Bellinger, analysed statistics he gained from his participation in a PPG Insight Project to narrow down the local numbers as of January 2019.

He found the number of GPs per 10,000 residents sat at a national average of 5.5.

The local situation is varied - Hatfield Road Surgery has 4.8, The Lattimore and Village Surgery has 4.9, Parkbury House Surgery has 5.2, Grange Street Surgery has 5.9, The Maltings Surgery has 6.1, Havery Group Practice has 6.8, and Midway Surgery has seven.

Alan said the figures take into account if the GP is full time or part time, but warned they are extrapolated out of a large set of data - for example Hatfield Road employ two GPs for just over 4,200 patients.

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They also do not take into account maternity leave, sickness, and the size of practices.

He said: "In comparison with the average overall, St Albans comes out pretty well. It is above England's average and it is above the Herts Valleys CCG average, so that bodes well.

"But there is a big variation between the surgeries when you dig into it. With most of the surgeries in St Albans, you will have problems getting appointments.

"But the concept of a patient being able to pick a healthcare professional and see whoever they want is a bit archaic, because we are not the best judge of who we should see."

He said a new triage system is becoming more prolific - this is where a patient is initially assessed by a nurse over the phone to refer or advise them.

St Albans mum Hillary Childs said she had to wait five weeks for an appointment at The Maltings Surgery.

She had been with the practice for more than 20 years, but after the experience decided to register elsewhere: "I was really upset about that.

"I didn't know if my problem was desperate or not. I am not a doctor so how do I know if it is life threatening if I am not well?

"If I am feeling down or under the weather, it could be anything."

Hillary stressed she is not a hypochondriac who wastes appointment time: "If I want to go to the doctor, it is because something is genuinely wrong and I will be anxious about it."

Practice manager at The Maltings Surgery, Susan Trounce, said they welcome all feedback.

She said: "The Maltings Surgery deals with any issue that is medically urgent on the same day, but appointments to fit around a person's own schedule or with a particular clinician can mean a wait.

"As you can see ,we are not under-resourced, but occasionally the demand on our staff and service can be very high."

She said there will be a new appointment system introduced in June which will "improve access radically".

Practice manager at Hatfield Road Surgery, Babita Sinha, stressed her GPs work more than normal full-time hours.

She said: "We are recruiting for female GPs at the moment but because of the shortage, we are not able to find anyone.

"There is a shortage of GPs nationwide because so many doctors are only interested in locum work."

Locum doctors work on a short-term contract.

Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, also addressed the shortage. She is optimistic about the future, but found the national figures "disheartening": "There is some excellent work ongoing to boost recruitment into general practice and as a result we have more GPs in training than ever before.

"But GPs cannot be trained overnight, and whilst we wait for the next generation of family doctors to enter the workforce, existing GPs and our teams are struggling to manage escalating workloads without enough time or the resources to deal with them."

A spokeswoman from the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group said they could not corroborate Alan's figures: "Official and accurate figures are reported by individual GP practices to NHS Digital and published on their website.

"As part of the NHS Long Term Plan we are committed to recruiting GPs locally through retention, return to practice and an international recruitment programme."

She said there is a scheme to support GPs who might otherwise leave.

Alan speaks more about his calculations on this week's St Albans Podcast, with Danny Smith.