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A letter from the doctors at Lakeside Healthcare Stamford

After a time that’s seen plenty of change, Lakeside doctors pen an open letter to Mercury readers addressing concerns...

Thank you for bearing with us during what has been a very difficult year. We are acutely aware of the problems faced by some of our patients accessing appointments, navigating the phone system and being able to see a GP in the way they have traditionally been used to.

Despite the negative reports you may have seen, we are very grateful for the many kind messages of support and thanks we have received, which have encouraged and inspired us to strive to provide the best service we can, under very trying conditions.

Lakeside staff outside the Sheepmarket Surgery in Stamford
Lakeside staff outside the Sheepmarket Surgery in Stamford

It will not surprise you that the national picture mirrors the one that we are experiencing in Stamford.

This quote is from the chairman of the Royal College of GPs Professor Martin Marshall (April 30, 2021): “Nearly 800 GP practices have closed over the last eight years – almost 100 in the last year during the pandemic – this is a concern and likely to be distressing for the millions of patients who have lost the practice they are familiar with. Some of the closures will be due to practices merging, or working in different ways, but some practices will have had no choice but to close due to intense workforce and workload pressures – and this must be addressed urgently.

“General practice was dealing with unsustainable workload, and practices were struggling to recruit sufficient numbers of GPs and practice staff to handle it, before the pandemic. The pandemic has only exacerbated these pressures. This has resulted in GPs feeling burnt out and leaving the profession before they planned to and has forced some practices to close for good.”

“The latest data from NHS digital shows that GPs and their teams are working harder than ever, with over 2.25m more consultations in March this year than in 2019 before the pandemic. They are at the forefront of helping communities recover from the pandemic, caring for patients whose physical and mental health has been directly or indirectly affected by Covid-19 – and are playing a leading role in the covid vaccination programme, with 75 per cent of vaccines administered in primary care in England.”

Unprecedented is a much-used word at the moment but the last 12 months have been one of the most challenging many of us can recall in our careers (with over 200 years’ GP experience between us). The number of patients we are dealing with in Stamford per day has almost doubled since before the start of the pandemic, whilst we are also playing our part in delivering the largest vaccination programme the country has ever seen.

A national GP workload survey suggests a recommended safe number of contacts per GP per day is 28, currently in Stamford we are dealing with over 50, working 12-hour days. Increased pressures due to hospital cancellations, delayed operations, early hospital discharge, closure of the minor injuries unit locally and increasing rates of mental health problems, all of which fall to the GPs to manage, alongside our usual workload, mean the service is stretched to capacity.

Digital services in general practice are part of the Government’s strategy for the NHS and are common to all practices throughout the country. In line with this, we offer telephone triage, video consultations, face-to-face appointments where clinically indicated and e-consult, our digital consultation method.

Unfortunately, due to the 24/7 availability of e-consult, we underestimated the demand and pressure it would put on our service which led to delays in response time, for which we apologise.

We are pleased to say we have dealt with the backlog and have also limited the 24/7 availability in order to manage capacity and now patients can expect a response from us via e-consult within 48 hours (please visit our website to submit an e-consult if you would like to).

One of the hopes when we implemented e-consult was that it would reduce the number of phone contacts freeing up staff to deal with the vulnerable, the elderly and those who struggle with IT. Unfortunately this has not happened and the phones have become increasingly overloaded with long wait times, we apologise and are working to improve this situation.

GP surgeries, uniquely in the NHS, must absorb extra demand with the same or reduced numbers of staff so even if we have GPs, receptionists, administration staff and nurses off sick the calls do not stop coming and the demand doesn’t let up. In light of this we have to consider patient safety first and foremost. This is why sometimes you might phone in and be told all the appointments are used up and we can only see you if your problem is deemed medically urgent. This is in order to prioritise cases and practice medicine safely.

We have tried to be as open and honest as we can about the current situation but rest assured we have plans in place to improve access to health care in Stamford. Our main priorities currently are:

  1. Improving phone access. We are implementing a completely new phone system over the next few weeks. As you can imagine, this is more complicated than simply changing a home phone provider, as a whole system is being replaced, but we expect the work will be completed in a matter of weeks and are anticipating that this will make a huge difference to call wait times and improve access.
  2. E-consult. We have invested considerable GP time in eliminating the backlog of e-consults and response time is now less than 48 hours. An ideal way to access help for non-urgent problems and can be accessed via our website.
  3. Recruitment of GPs. We currently have 14 doctors working at Lakeside Stamford. Sadly we have recently lost a number of our much-loved and experienced GPs due to retirement. You may be aware that GP recruitment is notoriously difficult currently with many practices having vacancies. Increasing numbers of doctors are retiring early or leaving the profession due to stress and increased workload. Recruitment is ongoing and to date we are pleased to say that we have appointed some new doctors to join in the near future and are actively looking to recruit more.
  4. St Mary’s Medical Centre. This has been the vaccination hub for Stamford to date having provided over 19,000 covid vaccinations to our patients. This has been an absolute privilege and is something we are extremely proud of. We could not have done it without the support of our fantastic volunteers and dedicated staff who have worked through days off, weekends and holidays to make it happen. All this, alongside providing core services, has put us all under increased pressure. We plan to open up services at St Mary's Medical Centre as capacity allows (with vaccine clinics taking priority). Our aim is to resume usual GP services there as soon as we are able; in fact, we have been doing this in a limited capacity throughout the pandemic but this will be expanded in the coming months and it will again become a fully operating GP surgery.

We will keep you updated as our plans progress. We would like to assure you our goal as GPs at Lakeside Stamford, and on behalf of our whole team, is to continue to strive to serve the needs of you, our patients, in the best way that we can.

If you would like to get involved and understand more about the practice, please consider joining our Patient Participation Group whose first meeting is on May 19. The meeting will be available to watch on Zoom using the meeting ID: 964 8961 1306 and the passcode: 1rBgm4

For those wishing to find out more, or to get more involved in the PPG, further details are here.

Yours sincerely

The doctors, Lakeside Healthcare, Stamford

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