Coronavirus in Portsmouth: 1,600 GP appointments lost a month by people who fail to turn up

Dr Zaid Hirmiz, a Hordnean GP, talks about the pressure on GP practices in Hampshire.Dr Zaid Hirmiz, a Hordnean GP, talks about the pressure on GP practices in Hampshire.
Dr Zaid Hirmiz, a Hordnean GP, talks about the pressure on GP practices in Hampshire.
GP SURGERIES are facing ‘huge pressure’ with NHS winter strain worsened by appointment no-shows, a top doctor has said.

Around 950,000 appointments were given to patients across Hampshire in a single month with 63 per cent face-to-face, higher than pre-pandemic levels.

The stark figures show how GPs are facing the same level of demand as colleagues at Queen Alexandra Hospital and the ambulance service.

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But primary care workers have been disheartened by 1,600 daily no-shows across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

‘It’s a huge number that could have been offered to other people who need them,’ said Dr Zaid Hirmiz, a senior GP and Horndean Surgery partner.

In Portsmouth alone five per cent of appointments in October were not attended - some 179 a day on average.

This includes patients not turning up to practices, and not answering the phone to telephone consultation.

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Last month the Portsdown Group Practice had 1,390 appointments where the patient did not attend – known as DNAs.

This equates to 63 patients a day and more than 300 hours of lost time.

A spokeswoman said: 'At a time when there is national pressure on appointment availability, it’s really frustrating when this happens.

‘We have tried different methods of reducing DNAs over the years.

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‘The most effective was the introduction of text appointment reminders to patients; and most practices offer this service.

‘Within that text there is often an option to cancel the appointment, which is so easy to follow.

‘The easiest and quickest way to improve access is to reduce the DNAs. It makes so much difference when someone lets us know they can’t make their appointment.

‘We understand sometimes it is unavoidable, however if just 30 per cent of patients in November had cancelled their appointment rather than miss it, we would have had 417 more appointments that our patients could book.

‘That’s 92 hours of time.’

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In a direct message to patients, the spokeswoman added: ‘Please help us to help you. Cancel your appointment so someone else can have it.’

The missed opportunities through lost appointments come after QA Hospital and South Central Ambulance Service revealed to The News the realities of a busy A&E with patients treated in the backs of ambulances.

Horndean Surgery GP Dr Hirmiz - a senior figure in the healthcare system in Hampshire - has lifted the lid on relentless pressure in primary care.

Just as more than 300 ambulances arrive at QA Hospital each day, more than 30,000 patients are given GP appointments across Hampshire each day.

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Dr Hirmiz said organisations making up the NHS - including general practice, Queen Alexandra Hospital, the ambulance service, community providers, 111 and pharmacies - are ‘working so well together’ to serve patients.

All sections of the NHS want patients treated as close to home as possible - or at home - to alleviate the demand but also ensure better recovery, he said.

But he warned: ‘General practice at the moment is really under huge pressure because of what’s going on.

‘We’ve just gone into winter now and in addition the pandemic is not over - it’s been going on for the last 20 months.

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‘The pressure is going up because of the other winter illnesses, the flu, cold, tonsilitis, sore throat - all these things which have symptoms that mimic Covid.

‘That is all in addition to what we are doing normally, dealing with long term conditions - the Covid vaccination programme.

‘We are under huge pressure and doing our best to ensure patient safety and that appropriate care is given to patients all the time.’

And Dr Hirmiz said ‘we are all responsible’ for alleviating the pressure on the NHS this winter.

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Dr Hirmiz added: ‘There’s a lot that patients can do to help the whole system.

‘We are all responsible to ensure safety and to ensure that we are delivering the best care to our patients.

‘If you are eligible for the Covid vaccine, please book your Covid booster as soon as possible.

‘If you are eligible for the Covid vaccine and not had it yet, it’s not a time-limited offer - so you can... book your vaccine as soon as possible.

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‘Also, don’t forget the flu - if you are eligible for flu vaccine, please get your vaccine.

Dr Hirmiz - an experienced doctor who trains GPs - said news of the Covid Omicron variant has sparked concerns. He worries about the toll on people’s mental health at hearing of the latest variant, too.

‘Absolutely it concerns me,’ he said in relation to the variant. ‘I’ve already started hearing from friends and family that they are really concerned.’

He is urging people to take responsibility for stopping the spread of Covid.

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He said: ‘Do everything you can do possible to reduce the spread of infection - so if you have any symptoms please make sure you self-isolate and book yourself a PCR test as soon as possible to ensure you don’t spread the infection if you have Covid.

‘If you have an urgent care need and you’re not sure what to do about it, you can call 111 or go on 111 online, who will then guide you through it.

‘It might be you can manage your symptoms at home, actually you might need to go to a pharmacy or you might get asked to contact general practice or go to an urgent treatment centre or minor injuries unit.

‘However, if you have a life-threatening condition such as chest pain or you think you’re suffering from a stroke or a mental health crisis, then you can call 999.’

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How to help yourself and the healthcare system - requests from the NHS

:: Please get your Covid-19 booster vaccine as soon as you become eligible for it and are invited

:: The offer for a Covid-19 vaccine is evergreen, so if you are yet to have your first or second dose and you’re eligible, then please come forward and get vaccinated

:: Please remember to get your flu jab this season if you are eligible – Covid-19 is not the only respiratory virus circulating, especially in the winter when you have flu/cold/coughs/colds

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:: If you think you have Covid-19 (high temperature, new continuous cough, loss of taste/smell) then please self-isolate and book yourself in for a PCR test

:: Please ensure you have a good supply of over-the-counter medicines and treatments at home, such as paracetamol and plasters, so that you can self-care if you become unwell

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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