‘It’s going to lead potentially to A&E being overrun’ – Fears over NHS pressures as GP practices switch off online service

There are fears Bury’s NHS could become strained even further after a group of four GP practices switched off access to an online consultation service. The askmyGP service allows patients to contact their surgery and receive a response online, in what the platform describes as ‘digital triage’.

It has been an option for Bury residents who are signed up to GP practices in the Tower Family Healthcare (TFH) group – Greenmount, Minden, Spring Lane and Tottington. However, TFH announced on Monday (April 25) that patients will not be able to submit requests to the service for two weeks, until May 6.

It says the move is necessary as it clears a backlog of existing requests and continues to deal with coronavirus affecting its staff. But residents and a Bury MP have raised concerns that the move will see more people head to A&E at Fairfield Hospital – as well as causing longer queues on TFH’s phonelines.

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A post on the group’s website said: “As you will be aware of the NHS is under extreme pressure and like other parts of the service GPs are struggling to cope. Significant numbers of our staff (despite being fully vaccinated) continue to be affected by Covid and therefore unable to work.

“We have had to make the difficult decision to temporarily turn askmyGP OFF for incoming requests. We have a significant number of outstanding requests from patients that we have been unable to deal with and we therefore need to be able to focus on clearing these.

Spring Lane Surgery is one of four GP practices at Tower Family Healthcare which has had online access switched off.

“It is also vital that we focus our efforts on those patients who need our help the most. Please do take some time to consider the need to contact us. At the present time we need to focus ONLY on patients with possible serious or medically urgent problems.”

The decision sparked concern among residents in parts of Bury using Facebook. Posts in the What’s on in Tottington, Greenmount and Walshaw Facebook group attracted several comments this morning with concerns over difficulty in getting access to GPs at TFH group practices – with some waiting ‘weeks’ for an appointment by telephone or askmyGP, while others claimed to have been told to go to A&E instead.

One person said they tried to call for an appointment after hearing askmyGP was switched off. She said she was ‘over 30th in the queue’ and warned ‘people will be affected by this’.

Concerns have also been shared to James Daly, Conservative MP for Bury North. In a video shared on Facebook this morning, he said he had received reports of ‘really unacceptable level of GP services, GP appointments and GP contacts’ for his constituents over the past 24 hours.

“The delays that people are going through are simply not acceptable,” said Mr Daly. “I’ve raised this previously with the CCG [NHS Bury clinical commissioning group], and clearly whatever action they have taken is not working. We have to do something about this.

“It’s going to potentially lead to A&E being overrun by people who can’t get to see their GPs. I’m going to speak to the health department today, speak to the practices in question, get in touch with the CCG again to raise these issues. We need a better level of service than this.”

Patients are being urged to contact NHS 111 or their pharmacist in the first instance for ‘more minor illnesses’ – with TFH listing coughs, sore throats and mild eczema as examples. Those who call their practice are being warned to expect ‘a significant wait’ and urged not to chase up previous requests, while anyone in an emergency should call 999.

Bury North MP James Daly

NHS Bury CCG was approached for comment. Dr. Simon de Vial, GP at Tower Family Healthcare, said: “As is the case with other General Practices, Tower Family Healthcare is currently under extreme pressure with requests for appointments around a third higher than before the pandemic. As a team, like everyone else In the community, we are also managing the impact of staff sickness due to coronavirus. Despite this we remain fully open.

“Due to the sheer demand for our services at this time, and a need to manage the number of enquiries received via Ask My GP over recent days, we have temporarily paused the ability to create new online requests. We are still available on the phone and via reception for those patients that feel their need is urgent or cannot wait.

“All contacts are clinically assessed on the same day with the most urgent cases prioritised. Patients with less urgent needs may have to wait a little longer and patients with a minor ailment may be encouraged to seek support from an alternative, more appropriate service, to meet their needs.

“We understand that on some occasions patients may feel they are not getting access to services in a timely manner, we fully acknowledge that and are working hard to address concerns. Our dedicated team continue to do their best under difficult circumstances to ensure patients have access to services in a timely and appropriate way and we thank our patients for their ongoing support, patience and kindness.”


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