Waits to see GPs adding to Leeds hospital pressures

DELAYS in getting GP appointments in Leeds are leading patients to go to A&E instead, a report has found.

Almost half at the city’s emergency departments who hadn’t sought other medical advice said they went there because the wait was too long for a family doctor appointment.

A total of 40 per cent said they went to Leeds General Infirmary or St James’s Hospital because they couldn’t see their GP the same day or because the average wait for a consultation was two weeks – and this was too long.

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Patient watchdog Healthwatch Leeds said it was “surprised” at the results.

Director Tanya Matilainen said: “We were surprised about how many it was, but not that surprised because we knew that access to GPs was an issue.

“The main message for us was how difficult people said it was to get an appointment.

People might not have tried on this occasion, but they said they knew there was a two-week wait.”

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Volunteers from Healthwatch Leeds investigated A&E issues by speaking to almost 1,000 patients at the city’s two units, including asking them about why they came to hospital and whether they had got medical advice first. Almost half said they had got medical help elsewhere first but 40 per cent said they hadn’t seen their GP because of difficulties getting an appointment.

The researchers called for the system of urgent care to be simplified so people know about alternatives to emergency units.

“We have a really complicated system to access anything else except A&E if it’s out of hours,” Ms Matilainen said.

“The services are in multiple locations and need to be accessed in different ways.

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“The message really is that it needs to be simple – and maybe it needs to be in one place. It’s about making it simpler and making it easier.”

She added they originally intended to look at waiting times because patients said they stayed in A&E longer than the four hour target. However it turned out patients didn’t always understand when they’d been officially discharged from A&E into another part of the hospital.

NHS bosses said the report was “useful”, but admitted there was still work to be done.

The spokeswoman for NHS England in West Yorkshire, added: “The demand for GP services has increased over the past few years and in order to support patients’ needs many practices have adjusted their approach to offering appointments. “Appointments need to be made on the basis of clinical need and the GP practice will assess this with each patient individually.

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“There is more work to be done in the future to ensure patients access the right service first time including GP practices. Clinical Commissioning Groups in Leeds and NHS England are working together with GP practices to ensure this happens.”

A spokesman for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs LGI and St James’s added that the findings provided a “valuable insight”.

“Overall we are pleased that the report found 86 per cent of people were satisfied with the quality of the service our staff provide. We are looking in detail at the report at the moment and will be going back to Healthwatch with details of an action plan we are developing.”