GPs in Scotland have rejected suggestions from MSPs that they have had little to do during the pandemic, claiming they are busier than ever.
Dr Andrew Buist, a Blairgowrie GP who represents family doctors at BMA Scotland, told healthandcare.scot: “GPs are not sitting doing nothing: they are, as always, at the forefront of protecting the health of the whole of Scotland.”
In a report published this week a Scottish Parliament committee questioned the role of GPs during the pandemic.
But Dr Buist emphasised: “GP surgeries are open, and GPs are available to patients, as they have been throughout the pandemic.”
Reports from practices that gather their own statistics show activity is currently up by as much as 20%.
The Health Committee, however, has called on the Scottish government to provide detail on GP workload in the pandemic, stating the introduction of community hubs where covid-19 patients were directed away from GP surgeries ‘inevitably leads to questions of what GPs have been doing during the coronavirus crisis’.
But Dr Buist said: “Throughout the pandemic, there has been no such thing as a routine day for a GP. Working practices have had to change dramatically to reduce footfall and ensure the safety of all patients.
“I expect GPs to ensure they are available to assess patients with worrying symptoms and to see those patients when it is necessary and appropriate to do so. Face-to-face consultations and home visits need to take place safely so as to avoid the spread of covid-19.
“To ensure these can happen in a safe manner a patient’s needs, as always, should be assessed by a clinician and a risk assessment done to determine where, when, and how the patient is seen.”
Dr Buist added that GPs were set to come under unprecedented pressure this winter because of the flu season, higher demand for mental health support and covid-19.
This week the doctors’ leader issued a stark warning that GP surgeries could be “overwhelmed” in the coming months.
The Health Committee’s report focused on the impact that cancelling non-urgent procedures at the start of the pandemic had on patients.
Figures show there have been just over 100,000 fewer operations in the period from March to August 2020 than the year before.
MSPs called for the NHS and the Scottish government to set out a timeline for resolving the backlog of treatments that has built up during covid-19.
But on general practice, the Committee said the ‘reality may be somewhat different’ to claims that doctors were busy with extra demands such as extra demands such as care home support and mental health issues.
‘We have received numerous reports from constituents of GPs refusing to see people, including one case where a woman with a breast lump was refused a GP appointment,’ the report states.
‘We have also heard numerous accounts of GPs indicating covid-19 is the priority which leads us to wonder if covid-19 patients are going through the hubs, what are GPs doing?’
Dr Robbie Coull, from the Strachur practice on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll, described the wording of the report as “irresponsible” and said doctors went into the pandemic with “inadequate numbers and inadequate premises… [and] a lack of personal protective equipment.”
“It is entirely unclear to me how further demoralising already exhausted and demoralized frontline workers during a second wave is going to do anything to help patients,” he said.
“Is it a surprise that a chronically underfunded and understaffed service is struggling during the current pandemic? No. Are patients going to struggle to access services? Yes. Who is to blame for that? The political parties who cut NHS budgets.”
“What’s the solution? Support front line services, get on with updating premises so they can be cleaned easily and have better ventilation, provide management help for the practices that are struggling with all the changes, cut back on unnecessary paperwork – appraisals, for example – wear a mask, stop spreading fake news that helps the virus, and be nice to your local practice: you need them more than they need you.”
by Henry Anderson