A row has erupted over patients’ treatment of staff as well as the treatment of patients at two Richmondshire GP surgeries.
Days after patients at the Central Dales Practice in Hawes and Aysgarth were told in a statement that “no receptionist should be reduced to tears by a patient’s attitude towards them”, a community leader has hit back saying residents are frightened following the loss of services at the surgery.
The appeal for patients to stop taking out their frustrations was issued by the Upper Dales Health Watch, the mandated patient participation group for the Wensleydale practice, which is formed from patients of the surgery and aims to help it work as well as it can for patients, doctors and staff.
The group said the volume of the 4,250 patients on the surgeries’ list seeking medical help had increased dramatically from a pre-Covid average of up to 40 patients a day at open access surgeries, although it did not give a comparable recent figure.
The group’s secretary, Jane Ritchie said receptionists, who were supporting the Covid vaccines scheme alongside their normal duties and identifying vulnerable patients who need urgent help, had taken the “brunt of patient unhappiness” over being unable to see a doctor immediately.
She said: “The pressure may not be visible to patients, but it is affecting the speed at which patients can have a consultation. No receptionist should be reduced to tears by a patient’s attitude towards them.”
Hawes councillor Jill McMullon said many residents had been upset by the accusations.
She said: “Nobody would condone patients being unpleasant to receptionists, but the GP practice has to understand why they are being like that, and it’s because they aren’t getting the attention and care they were before.
“The services are going backwards.
“Patients are being told there is a wait of possibly two weeks for an appointment unless it is urgent, in my experience you don’t ring a doctor unless you think you need attention so what exactly is classed as urgent?
“This in turn dissuades people from attending and late diagnosis could have a major impact not only on the NHS as a whole, but also on individuals.”
Following residents raising concerns over services such as ear syringing and minor stitching being ended at the surgeries, Cllr McMullon highlighted the issue to Healthwatch North Yorkshire, which is yet to respond.
She said: “Can you imagine if you are on own and cut yourself and then are told you need to travel many miles to go somewhere like the Friarage Hospital to get stitched up. A few months ago it would have been done at the surgery. It is a lack of care.
“I’m extremely fearful that lives may potentially be at risk as serious problems may well be ignored because it is impossible for some to attend hospitals.”
In response, Lynn Irwin, managing partner of Central Dales Practice, said she was saddened by the councillor’s comments.
She added: “We are seeing almost double the usual level of requests for same day appointments and it is just unsustainable.
“We are finding a small number of patients are becoming rude and aggressive on the phone and this is just not acceptable and should not need to be tolerated.”
The manager added that over the last 15 months as a practice they have never locked or closed our doors.
“The national Standard Operating Procedure provided by NHS England advised that we were to stop open access clinics and only see patients on a clinical needs basis. This is the SOP all GP Practices in England are working to.
“We have therefore had to adjust the way in which we work and we are operating a telephone first system.
“This means that a patient will speak to a GP or ANP on the phone and if their issue cannot be dealt with by phone, the clinician will give them a time to attend face to face to be seen (based on the clinical urgency of the issue).
“Any nursing reviews that don’t need face to face are also being undertaken by phone.
“This means that we have capacity within our surgeries to see patients face to face where clinically necessary. This also means that allied healthcare professionals are also able to use rooms to see patients (dentists, midwives, physiotherapy, podiatry and the like).
“These allied healthcare professionals provide essential services to our patients so we need to ensure we manage the number of patients in the building at any one time.
“During the last 15 months we have also supported staffing a Covid Assessment Centre out of the Friarage Hospital for patients in Hambleton and Richmondshire (this has now closed) and more recently been supporting staffing the Covid Vaccination Centre at Tennants, Leyburn.
“Our staff have all gone above and beyond working many extra hours to ensure we continue to offer full services at the Practice whilst supporting the Covid-19 efforts.”
She said the practice has also been running e-consultations for some time now.
“A (registered) patient can use the link our website to submit an e-consultation and this will be responded to within 2 working days.
“I can confirm that we have taken onboard recent feedback and as a direct result of which we have reviewed and amended how our GP and ANP sessions will look with effect from July; we will be providing more urgent telephone and more pre-bookable telephone appointments which we hope will help manage the increased same day demand.
“With regards to the comment about minor injuries, I can confirm that as a Practice we never stopped this service, we have provided this service for our patients without interruption.
“Injuries beyond ‘minor’ will be seen, assessed and if appropriate, directed to the Urgent Treatment Centre at the Friarage for treatment. ”
When asked about the service changes, a North Yorkshire clinical commissioning group spokesman said it had not recently decided to discontinue ear syringing or minor injuries at GP surgeries.
He said: “There remain some historic variations in commissioning policies between areas of North Yorkshire.”