‘By the time he saw a doctor it was too late’: Scandal of NHS doctors putting patients at risk by failing to see them
DOCTORS are putting lives at risk by failing to see patients in person, with hundreds of practices now carrying out the majority of consultations remotely, we can reveal.
Shocking statistics show that out of 34million appointments in October, ten million were delivered remotely.
This means the number of in-person consultations offered by physicians in England stood at 70.9 per cent, down from 71.3 per cent a year earlier.
Across the NHS, a total of 387 GP surgeries — 6.1 per cent of the total — carried out more than half of their consultations on the phone or via a video call on a service such as Zoom.
In June 2019, 81 per cent of visits were in-person.
Then the following year, when the pandemic hit, GPs had to rapidly adjust from face-to-face consultations to reduce Covid risks.
READ MORE ON THE NHS CRISIS
Today, one of the worst offending practices saw just one in five of its patients in person, with locals in East Finchley, North London, complaining it is “impossible to speak to a GP”.
Our probe comes as the NHS is again stretched to breaking point following a three-day strike this week by junior doctors and a six-day strike planned at the start of January.
And experts say that patients who cannot see a GP in person often end up in a hospital waiting room instead, putting even more pressure on the system.
Politicians and campaigners are now demanding that doctors bring back face-to-face consultations before more lives are lost.
Conservative MP Steve Brine said tonight: “For so many reasons, not least patient safety, we must fight to keep as many in-person appointments as possible.”
A stark example of the crisis can be found at the East Finchley Medical Practice in the affluent suburb in North London.
Patients there report the waiting room is constantly filled with the sound of an unanswered phone as the receptionist struggles to cope.
The NHS site for the practice is brimming with one-star reviews.
One patient complained on Google this month: “Impossible to speak to a GP, let alone see one, and they usually turn off their e-consulting service.”
Another patient added: “This is not a GP! This is something else! They don’t even care about your medical problems!
“They don’t book appointments, they say they’ll book you in and just don’t.”
Shifa Medical Practice in Barking, East London, saw just 26 per cent of patients face-to-face, 185 out of 782, in the same month.
Wombwell GMS practice, near Barnsley, offered 17,421 appointments in October yet only 4,446 were in its surgery (25.52 per cent).
Across the country, our research found there are 20 surgeries where DOUBLE the number of people are treated remotely than face-to-face.
NHS guidance is clear that GPs must respect a patient’s preference for face-to-face care “unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary”.
The inability to see a GP can have catastrophic consequences, as Donna Mercer found out when she lost her husband Craig, the father of their two kids, to stomach cancer in January last year.
Craig, 32, a gardener was tired constantly and struggling to keep down food.
But he was only given phone consultations for five months.
By the time he finally got to see a doctor it was too late. He died 13 weeks after being diagnosed.
Donna believes Craig would still be alive if he had got to meet with a GP at South Bank Surgery, near their home in Leeds.
She said: “Craig started with symptoms in June 2021 and had six phone appointments from then until October, all of which were giving him prescriptions for acid reflux.
“He was vomiting and losing so much weight that they would have seen with their own eyes that it wasn’t right.
“His cancer might not have been cured but he could have had more time left, to say goodbye and to get a bit more time with his children.
“Craig needed a doctor to have a good look at him. It feels to me like doctors do not care any more.”
The Sun on Sunday analysed monthly appointment data filed by all surgeries to NHS England which sets out the numbers of face-to-face and remote appointments offered by each practice.
The information shows of the ten million remote appointments in October, eight million were over the phone and 803,000 online or through video calls.
Yet just 460,000 (57 per cent) of those online or video calls were dealt with by a GP, the remainder were most likely by a nurse.
Our analysis reveals that the worst places to see a doctor face to face are in the South East, where 64.7 per cent of all appointments are in person.
In London, the figure is 65.3 per cent.
Patients have the best chance of seeing a doctor in the East of England, 74 per cent.
Primary care magazine Pulse revealed in August that one in six GPs failed to provide patients with in-person consultations.
More than a fifth of doctors (22 per cent) said patients insisting on a direct meeting should expect to wait longer.
And 16 per cent of GPs claimed they could not provide in-person appointments to every patient who requests them.
Dennis Reed, director of over-60s campaign group Silver Voices, said: “This significant research by The Sun on Sunday brings home the stark reality of what patients are experiencing daily in many parts of the country.
“In some practices it is now well-nigh impossible to see a GP in their surgery.
“Many older people feel some doctors just don’t want to see them because they are seen as a nuisance.
“Virtual-only appointments are driving older people to go to hospital A&E instead.”
Wallingbrook Health Centre in Devon, Torrington Park surgery in North London and Harefield Practice in West London said NHS data glitches resulted in their low face-to-face appointment numbers.
Scott Ridley, practice manager at Harefield, said: “Our main problem is that we are limited by physical space.
“Our NHS doctors can’t use the empty rooms to see more NHS patients until the NHS Integrated Care board agrees to pay ‘rent’ to NHS Properties.
“We are doing as much as we possibly can with the facilities we are currently permitted to use.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “Every GP practice must offer face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointments, considering patient preference alongside clinical need, with seven in ten appointments being delivered face to face and GPs also delivering a record number of face-to-face appointments in October 2023.
“For some patients, and where it is clinically appropriate, remote consultations are convenient and easier ways to access care.”
Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: “You should get a choice when it comes to how you see your GP.
“For many patients, having an online or phone appointment is more convenient.
“Especially if you need to take time off work, can’t travel to a local GP or have to care for others.
“But digital appointments should not be the default and are not suitable for everyone.
“Some people don’t have access to a computer or phone, struggle to use the technology or feel more comfortable discussing medical problems in person.
“The Government has said GP practices should respect people’s preferences regarding how they are seen.
“The local NHS needs to investigate if a GP surgery has a low number of patients being seen in person to understand why.”
‘TOO LATE BY TIME HE SAW DOC’
MARRIED dad of two Craig Mercer died with stomach cancer after he struggled to get a face-to-face appointment with a doctor.
The 32-year-old, who had a history of the condition in his family, was constantly tired and struggling to keep down food.
But for five months from June 2021 he was only given phone consultations by South Bank Surgery, near his home in Leeds.
By the time gardener Craig got to see a doctor it was too late – he died in January last year, 13 weeks after being diagnosed.
Wife Donna, 35, said: “I really do think he was let down.”
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