Doctor warns of a "tidal wave" of demand on Leeds GPs when coronavirus lockdown is lifted

A Leeds GP has warned there will be a "tidal wave" of new pressure on doctors once the lockdown restrictions are lifted later this year.

Monday, 20th April 2020, 6:00 am

Dr Martin Sutcliffe, of Alwoodley Medical Centre, says the numbers of patients ringing for advice or appointments has dropped significantly since the coronavirus lockdown was implemented last month and he is worried symptoms of other serious illnesses, such as cancers, suspicious moles, diabetes and mental health issues, are being missed and untreated.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post that while GPs are not as busy as people might think right now, once the lockdown is relaxed and the risk of catching coronavirus is lifted, he predicts there will be a "tidal wave" of demand for appointments and conditions that have worsened because symptoms have been missed or could have been treated earlier.

Dr Sutcliffe said: "We are thinking about it (the future) in our practice and I know other GPs in other practices are having the same conversations. There is a real concern that there is a tidal wave of pent up demand that will come in and we will have to devolve staff to manage that and that is going to be hard. This is not just my practice, this is every practice. Everyone is worried about people that are not coming to us."

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Dr Martin Sutcliffe and staff at Alwoodley Medical Centre.

He is urging people to get in touch now if they have niggling health concerns or need help managing an existing condition. He has also recorded and released a series of videos aimed at patients explaining that surgeries are still open, even if they are doing things differently, and how to keep picking up routine prescriptions.

They have also been recorded, with the help of fellow doctors, in Urdu, Hindi, Mandarin and Bengali.

Dr Sutcliffe said: "The whole motivation behind what I started doing was based around concern. We have completely changed our mode of operation overnight. We have gone from what was a very heavy face to face based practice to being 100 per cent telephone in the first instance.

"We are doing less telephone calls than we were a few weeks ago and we are thinking 'where are the people who are usually coming to us needing help'. We are starting to get worried about what is sitting in the houses of our communities. Are there people with cancer symptoms too frightened to come and talk to us about it? Are there people with mental health problems who are too frightened to come and talk to us about it?

Dr Martin Sutcliffe.

"We want the message out there, and I am sure it applies to every GP surgery, we are open but just doing things differently."

He added that at Alwoodley, the new measures to help limit contact and maintain social distancing include phone and video chats, group consultations via video platforms and a flow through the surgery building that means people are only inside for a short time.

Dr Sutcliffe said he believed any relaxation of lockdown restrictions would be gradual and an exit strategy at local and national levels would have to be agreed to manage the demand it might create but, in the meantime, urged people to keep in touch with their local surgeries.

He added: "The clear message is, we are open for business and if you have a health concern - we want to hear from you."

Case Study

A man who is now recovering at his Kippax home has urged people to keep routine appointments where possible and contact GPs with concerns after suffering a heart attack a fortnight ago.

Chris Hope, aged 67, who had a quadruple heart bypass 12 years ago, had been gardening at home on Friday April 3 and came back inside feeling unwell. He had tea, a shower and went to bed at woke at 2am the next morning sweating and feeling, he says, "like someone was standing on my chest". His wife Anne called an ambulance and thanks to paramedics, the ambulance service and doctors at Leeds General Infirmary he is on the road to recovery after having a blood clot removed from an artery and two stents fitted.

He said: "I am at home, sat on my patio in the sunshine and feel fine but taking it steady. I have check ups at Gipton Medical Centre for blood pressure and medication. You never know and I urge people to get checked out.

It comes after Stephen Powis, the national medical director at NHS England, reiterated that people should still use NHS emergency services if they are unwell or have had an accident.

He said: "The worry is that those who genuinely need help are staying at home, instead of seeking it. But when you’re in cardiac arrest, suffering a stroke or appendicitis, it will not pass and urgent medical attention is necessary."

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