Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart has said the announcement by the Royal College of GPs that the ‘Phone First’ system will be maintained will cause a great degree of concern amongst the public, who continue to experience delays and difficulty in accessing GP services. The DUP MP has written to the Royal College of GPs asking them to rethink the policy, and hold a public consultation. The MP has also written to Health Minister Robin Swann asking him to intervene.
Carla Lockhart said:
“This unilateral decision by the Royal College of GPs is deeply concerning. There is great public unease and dissatisfaction with the ‘Phone First’ system. I have had accounts from constituents where they have had to ring 200-300 times to have a conversation with a Practice receptionist. Many are then told to ring back the next day, as appointments have all been taken. This merry-go-round can last for days, all the while the patient’s health can be deteriorating and anxiety increasing. It is not the fault of the staff who are doing an amazing job under intense pressure but they have been placed in this position.
The startling admission from the Royal College that they know the system isn’t working, that they know patients have ‘genuine difficulty accessing our services” and that they did not have any “hard data about health outcomes” makes the decision to keep this practice in place even more startling. A full public consultation is needed before any permanence is attached to this policy.
Last week it was revealed that one third of all cancers in Britain are diagnosed at A and E. That is a startling statistic. However I have a great concern that with a Phone First system now in place across A and E in Northern Ireland, and a Phone First System being made permanent at GP surgeries, those with symptoms – often what can appear innocuous – will miss early diagnosis. So much emphasis is now being placed upon the patient to effectively communicate their concerns and symptoms, and the reality is that this is difficult for many people over the phone.
I do want to pay tribute to those GPs who are meeting patients face to face, and resuming normal practice procedures. We cannot forget that many frontline healthcare workers, many of whom are the lowest paid, have had close contact face to face interaction with patients throughout the pandemic. We need GPs to join with their colleagues in getting back to face to face appointments too.
I have written to the Health Minister and Royal College expressing my constituents concerns, and urging them to undertake a full public consultation on this proposal.”