GPs - 'We can't cope'

STRESSED Suffolk doctors suffering at the hands of a national GP shortage have pleaded with patients to understand their "almost intolerable" workload.

STRESSED Suffolk doctors suffering at the hands of a national GP shortage have pleaded with patients to understand their "almost intolerable" workload.

One doctors' surgery has been forced to advertise nationwide – and as far away as Holland – in an attempt to find a new GP to join its hard-pressed.

But the search has proved fruitless so far – and the doctors have had to restructure their working practices in an attempt to carry on.

Doctors at Kesgrave's Birches Medical Centre have written to their patients warning them: "We are finding the extra workload becoming almost intolerable."

The letter states: "There are so many vacancies available but too few GPs."

It goes on explain that appointments will only be booked on the day adding: "We hope that you will understand the reason why and support the practice while we endeavour to continue looking for another GP."

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The problems arose when one of the partners began working part time. Attempts to find another full-time doctor proved fruitless, and the practice was forced to adopt a new appointment system for patients.

Problems had been caused by some patients making bookings and then failing to turn up.

The changes caused anger among some patients who had difficulty in booking appointments – but now the practice has taken further steps to ease the pressure.

"The surgery is still actively looking for another GP to join it, but there is a nationwide shortage – even for surgeries in apparently attractive areas like Suffolk," said a spokesman for the Birches.

"As a result of these problems, other changes have been introduced.

"A practice pharmacist is on hand to deal with repeat prescriptions and a practice technician has been employed to help with things like taking blood tests," said the spokesman.

"Also working practices have been changed to enable more people to answer telephones when people are trying to make appointments in the morning."

A second phone line has just been introduced at the medical centre.

Ana Selby, chief executive of Suffolk Coastal's Primary Care Trust, said: "I have spoken to the surgery and as far as they are concerned the new scheme is working well. The only problems that are arising are when people wish to see specific doctors and this is not always possible.

"The new system is similar to those adopted by many other GP's surgeries in the area and fits in with the local plan's aim of getting everyone seen within one day of their phone-call."

Despite the frustration expressed by many residents, others have rallied around and the most recent issue of the 'Kesgrave News' is filled with letters of support for the practice.

One resident wrote: "Staff at the practice, please don't get despondent; it is only a small minority of armchair experts voicing negative opinion. I think you are doing a wonderful job in difficult circumstances and the vast majority of the people in Kesgrave tend to agree."

Recruiting GPs is especially difficult at present because many young doctors do not want the financial responsibilities which accompanies the job.

They would rather be salaried employees getting on with treating patients, and not have to "buy-in" to a practice with a huge mortgage and the responsibilities of employing other staff such as nurses, receptionists, a practice manager, and other health staff.

The government is introducing a new type of GP who would be employed directly by the NHS simply to provide medical services, but this scheme has not been fully implemented yet and cannot help the situation in Kesgrave.

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