NHS in ‘complete state of crisis’ and people ‘resort to DIY treatment as they can’t see GPs’

2 January 2023, 08:13 | Updated: 2 January 2023, 08:16

Health chiefs are warning of 'complete crisis' in the NHS
Health chiefs are warning of 'complete crisis' in the NHS. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

A leading doctor has warned the NHS is facing worse pressure now than it was at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The comments by Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, come as separate research shows some sick people are resorting to DIY medical treatment because they cannot get a face-to-face appointment with a GP.

A survey by Savanta ComRes found that, in the past 12 months, more than one in four adults had tried to get an in-person consultation with a GP in their local area but were unable to do so.

While some delayed seeing a doctor or gave up altogether, the poll found that one in six (16%) of those who could not get an appointment either administered treatment themselves or asked somebody else who was not medically qualified to do so.

Read more: Patient 'forced to wait 99 hours for bed' as hospitals come under extreme pressure

Dr Cooksley warned ‘urgent action’ is needed to bring the NHS back from the brink.

He said: “There is a complete acceptance from all colleagues now that this is different from all previous winters - and we need urgent action now.

“There is a complete acceptance from all colleagues now that this is different from all previous winters - and we need urgent action now.”

According to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), the NHS is facing the worst winter on record for A&E waiting times.

A number of hospitals have declared critical incidents in recent days, meaning they cannot function as normal due to pressure on services.

Others have told people not to attend emergency departments unless they have a life-threatening condition. Emergency consultant Dr Ian Higginson said: “Emergency departments are in a really difficult and in some cases a complete state of crisis right now... and in many cases we are unable to provide care at the standard we would like."

His comments come after those of Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, who said that between 300 and 500 people are dying each week because of delays in emergency care.

The Liberal Democrats, who commissioned the survey about GPs, said the findings are a "national scandal", and blamed years of "mismanagement and neglect" of local health services by the Government.

The survey, involving more than 2,000 adults, found that, in the past year, three out of four (72%) had tried to get a face-to-face GP appointment in their local area, with 43% proving successful while 29% were not.

Of those who were unsuccessful, one in three (32%) said they delayed seeing a GP despite being in pain, while almost as many (31%) simply abandoned their attempt to get an appointment.

One in four (24%) said they purchased medication at a pharmacy or online without advice from a doctor, while one in five (19%) went to A&E.

One in 10 (11%) paid for a private consultation and another 10% travelled a long distance to find a GP surgery that was offering appointments.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said the Government has repeatedly broken its promises to recruit more doctors, and called on ministers to bring in another 8,000 GPs.

"This is a national scandal. Face-to-face GP appointments have become almost extinct in some areas of the country," he said.

"We now have the devastating situation where people are left treating themselves or even self-prescribing medication because they can't see their local GP.

"The British public pay their fair share to the NHS, but years of Government mismanagement and neglect of local health services has left millions unable to see their GP."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said that, as of last September, there were almost 2,300 more full-time equivalent doctors working in general practice compared with September 2019, while there were also record numbers in GP training.

"We recognise the pressures GPs are under and are working to increase access for patients," the spokesman said.

"This year GP teams have delivered 80,000 more appointments every working day compared to last year, and we plan to deliver over a million more appointments this winter by bolstering general practice teams with other professionals.

"Guidance is clear that GP practices must provide face-to-face appointments, alongside remote consultations - and over two-thirds of appointments in November were face to face."

Dr Margaret Ikpoh, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "We want our patients to receive timely and appropriate care, but difficulties in accessing our services are the consequence of an under-resourced, underfunded, and understaffed service working under unsustainable pressures.

"While we understand that difficulties in getting GP appointments will drive some patients to take matters into their own hands and turn to the internet or try to 'cure' themselves, we urge them to use reputable NHS-accredited resources which are written and quality assured by qualified and experienced medical professionals.

"However, while self-care has an important role to play, there are some patients who will need the expertise, knowledge and skills that only a GP or member of the practice team can provide."

Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,061 UK adults aged 18 and over online between December 9 and 11.

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