Difficulty booking a GP appointment in Aylesbury Vale is 'getting beyond a joke' say angry patients
One man hung up after being placed on hold for over three hours when trying to book an appointment.
More and more patients are venting in frustration at the increasing difficulty they face when trying to book a GP appointment in Aylesbury.
The issue is exasperated in Bucks which has one of the highest number of registered patients in its Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in comparison to the rest of England.
The British Medical Association states that a rapid expansion of the GP workforce in England is needed to address the shortage.
New data shows that little has changed in Aylesbury and Bucks's GP surgeries since lockdown was eased with nearly half of GP consultations still being completed remotely.
Out of 104 CCG areas only 22 completed a lower percentage of appointments in person than Bucks surgeries.
National figures show in the first full month since the ending of restrictions, just 58% of patients were seen face-to-face. This compares to more than 80% before the pandemic.
Many GP surgeries tell callers they are "booked up" for weeks, and even getting a phone consultation is extremely difficult, say patients.
"This situation is beyond a joke now. People cannot get through to doctors who are refusing to return to their practices." said one man.
"I have spent almost the entirety of two days trying to get through to doctors. I dread to think what the cancer rates are going to be," he added.
Another patient said: "Women are getting smear test letters through and many are not going to have them due to not being able to get through.
"I had to hang up after three hours on hold to speak to a receptionist yesterday and I've seen on social media this seems to be the case for most people."
One patient, after struggling to get through on the phone, turned up at his surgery to make an appointment.
"I was made to feel like a criminal," he said.
"It was like Fort Knox. Then someone appears after undoing all the locks, reluctantly speaks to you through a crack in the door, and says to use the phone line - which is constantly full. The world is going back to normal but our doctors - the ones who have been encouraging us all to get our vaccines so that we can go back to normal - are still working from home and it's exacerbating the situation with the backlog."
Nationally, A&E doctors have reported higher numbers of people turning up for emergency care at hospitals because they were unable to be seen by their GP.
One mum said: "My young son had a nasty ear infection. He's had them before, so I knew he needed treatment and probably antibiotics. I called and called my GP surgery but they insisted there were no appointments available, even phone consultations.
"I was told to call at 8am the next morning. But when I did this, the line was constantly engaged for an hour. I finally got through, only to be told by the receptionist that all the phone appointments had gone for the day and I should take my son to the emergency centre at the hospital if he needed to be seen.
"By now, he was in severe pain. I waited for hours at hospital to be given a bottle of antibiotic medicine, which my GP could have prescribed in minutes....The whole system is crazy at the moment."
Emergency care doctors report the lack of GP access has a knock-on effect on A&E departments and is a key factor in high numbers turning up at hospitals for care.
GPs say the problems are caused by rising demand and also shortages of staff. Figures show the number of full-time GPs has fallen by 7% in the past five years - and this is despite a government drive to increase numbers.
Meanwhile the Covid vaccination programme, coupled with rising demand from people needing support, who have been forced to wait longer for hospital treatment, has resulted in an increased workload for all surgeries.
A Bucks CCG spokesperson said: "GPs and practice staff across Buckinghamshire have been working extremely hard during the pandemic and services have always been open to patients. All primary healthcare professionals, including GPs, have been at work in practices throughout.
"There has been greater emphasis on remote assessments and patients have been invited for face-to-face appointments when clinically needed. GP practices have never stopped working or closed their doors as a service; they have simply been operating in a Covid-safe way to keep staff and patients safe, and these measures continue to be necessary.
"GPs and practice staff have been under immense pressure during this time, with demand for services above what is normally expected for this time of year. In August 2021 practices arranged a total of 206, 735 appointments with patients in Buckinghamshire. This is an increase of more than 3,000 from August 2019 (pre-pandemic). We know this means telephone lines can be busy, and appreciate this may sometimes be frustrating for patients.
"In addition to their day-to day workload GP practices have played a vital role in the Covid vaccination rollout, helping to deliver 779, 942 vaccines in Buckinghamshire (up to 26 September - these figures include first and second doses) within the timescales required.
"They are now supporting the booster COVID vaccination programme as well as running the usual flu vaccination programme. Primary care staff have also been impacted by Covid in terms of illness and isolation like everyone else, which can create shortages.
"Despite this, more face-to-face appointments are now available compared to this time last year, for anyone who is assessed to need one. This judgement is based on the clinical need of the patient and whether an individual may have a condition which requires greater support.
"The national call and recall system for cervical screening is fully operational and is available at GP practices. Patients will be invited to attend for a screening appointment by post (by Public Health England) and we would urge anyone who is invited to attend a smear test to contact their GP to arrange one as soon as possible."
Dr Raj Bajwa, clinical chair of Bucks CCG, added: “The pandemic has been extremely difficult for many patients and we understand that some may be frustrated at having to wait a little longer than usual on the phone or for certain treatments. But it is vital that we prioritise those patients who need us most and who may have an urgent health need that requires attention.
“Throughout the pandemic, GPs and practice staff have been working incredibly hard, often taking on additional workloads to support the vaccination programme. Their top priority is always the health and wellbeing of patients.”