I have recently been contacted by a number of constituents who have experienced difficulties accessing GP services locally.
As a patient registered at a local surgery who has used primary care during the pandemic, I have seen first-hand the incredible job that GP surgeries have done in some very difficult and challenging circumstances. Locally, GP surgeries have been at the heart of the vaccine programme whilst also providing their usual day-to-day appointments. This has all been carried out whilst operating under heavy safety restrictions that have been put in place at speed. The work carried out over the past year by GP surgeries, and its success, has to be recognised as a remarkable achievement and my constituency is very fortunate to be served by such dedicated and hard working people.
Due to Covid restrictions, GP surgeries have been required to limit the number of people allowed in one space, which has in turn restricted the number of appointments surgeries have been able to offer. With the reduction in face to face consultations and the additional requirement to screen for Covid symptoms before any appointment, this has meant that telephone lines have been extremely busy and appointments difficult to arrange at short notice. I appreciate the frustration that those wanting to book a GP appointment will have, however, it is also of course important that safety is maintained at all times as one positive test could mean that a whole surgery would need to close for a period – which would be a very bad outcome.
To discuss the issues raised by constituents and ensure that the local NHS were taking action, I recently arranged a meeting with Dan Doherty, Alliance Director at the Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group.
During the meeting, I was pleased to learn that the CCG were already aware of the problems raised and Mr Doherty explained that they were mainly due to the exceptional recent demand for primary health services. This demand has also sadly exacerbated problems that existed before the pandemic, such as the insufficient size of surgery buildings, the inadequate number of telephone lines used by surgeries and difficulties in attracting new GPs and increasing their numbers in the area.
To resolve the problems in the short-term, the CCG have been proactive in offering their support to GP practices, such as the use of additional building space and providing technical telephone support. I am also aware that local GP practices have also offered support to each other to help minimise disruption.
With the lifting of restrictions, it is expected that surgeries will return to offering face to face appointments, which will help ease the waiting times. The CCG have also undertaken to keep a close eye on the availability of services locally and will monitor progress over the coming months to ensure that any assistance is targeted and made as effective as possible.
In the long-term, I was very pleased that the local CCG remain committed to expanding primary care services in Maldon through the proposed Maldon Hub and Heybridge Garden Suburb scheme and that they are keen to begin the process as soon as possible.