Patients swamp A&E as GPs cut surgery hours
Hospital Accident and Emergency departments are being swamped by patients who cannot visit GP surgeries or NHS walk-in centres, leading to longer waiting times.The reduction in opening hours is forcing some patients to wait up to three weeks for a GP’s appointment.
Information provided by almost two thirds of NHS primary care trusts indicated that almost 500 surgeries in England have stopped offering evening and weekend appointments.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, who commissioned the research, raised concerns that the NHS was being turned into an organisation that works for the convenience of doctors, rather than patients.
In April 2010, David Cameron promised that the Conservatives would ensure that GP surgeries remained open “until 8pm, seven days a week”.
The Coalition has abolished the official survey of GPs’ opening hours and is giving more power to doctors to commission and organise health services for patients in their areas.
However, figures from 91 primary care trusts, obtained by Labour under the Freedom of Information Act, showed a fall in the number of surgeries offering extended opening hours in half of NHS trusts.
Nationally, the survey suggested there had been a 5.7 per cent decline in surgeries offering weekend and evening appointments. This would be equivalent to 477 surgeries serving more than two million patients across England.
Labour said 26 emergency care units, including 12 NHS walk-in centres, had closed in the last year. At the same time, hospital emergency departments have been overwhelmed by one million more patients this year than in 2011, the Opposition claimed.
Mr Burnham said: “People are turning up at accident and emergency sicker and you get fewer staff to deal with them. David Cameron made a lot of promises on the NHS and one by one we are seeing them broken. The combination of the financial challenge with the biggest ever reorganisation of the NHS has served to severely destabilise the NHS.”
Mr Burnham said that more than 1,300 patients had contacted the party with concerns, many reporting that it takes two to three weeks to secure a doctor’s appointment. The worst affected area for cuts to opening hours was Hartlepool, where 31 per cent of surgeries were operating a reduced service. In Newcastle and Haringey, a quarter of practices were reducing opening hours.
The research also found that accident and emergency wards in 46 NHS trusts were not meeting the maximum waiting time of four hours.
A Conservative party spokesman said it was “more than a bit rich” for the Labour to complain about doctors’ opening hours “when it was their disastrous GP contract which meant that 90% of surgeries stopped offering this service altogether”.
“Our plans to put doctors back in charge of the NHS, which were opposed by Labour, will mean that local doctors will once again be responsible for caring for their patients out of hours and will offer patients a real choice of which GP surgery to go to,” he said.
Tags: Accident and Emergency, Conservatives, GPs, Health Professionals, labour, out of hours, waiting times