"Sheffield GPs are overwhelmed by demand and city patients can feel let down by service'

Dr Ben Allen wrote this moving piece for his Birley health centre's Facebook page where it has had 90,000 viewsDr Ben Allen wrote this moving piece for his Birley health centre's Facebook page where it has had 90,000 views
Dr Ben Allen wrote this moving piece for his Birley health centre's Facebook page where it has had 90,000 views
“At times you may have experienced GPs being hard to get hold of or felt not listened to when you do. You may feel not taken seriously or feel 'fobbed off'.

I can't imagine what it must be like if you're ill or worried. It is understandable to feel angry. I'm sorry if this has happened to you.

The cause is something that neither patients or GPs are in control of, but it is eroding the relationship between us nationally. GPs are overwhelmed by patient 'demand' and patients can feel let down by GPs. This situation is neither the fault of GPs or patients.

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Why? What we are expected to achieve has increased far beyond funding and staffing, year on year, for well over a decade. With medical advancements, giving quality care becomes far more complex, people live longer with multiple conditions, and GP workload becomes exponentially more challenging. Hospital work shifts to GPs often without funding. Each tiny change drains more time.

Yesterday I managed 50 patients, many on over 10 medications, supported staff with another 50, hundreds of prescription, letters, blood tests, then tried to resolve two complaints from patients who felt we were not doing a good enough job (we often agree there are things we'd like to do better), left loads of work I was expected to do and got home at 9pm.

Work in GP surgeries may not be how you imagine. In terms of communication and decision making, it is far more intense and frantic than my experience of hospital. For the money A&E receives for two patients, we're expected to offer you unlimited access all year. Around 42p per person per day.

The effects of this feels as devastating to us as it does to you. Most GPs became doctors because we care. And every day we are powerless to avoid communicating that we do not. Patients who used to adore their GP, now just feel they are an inconvenience and conclude we don't care anymore. It's so sad.

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What can anyone do? Do consider first if you can find an alternative solution; 111 can help you, www.NHS.uk is great for known health problems or medications, and pharmacies can help with minor illnesses or medication queries. We do benefit from knowing a bit about your problem, as it helps us find you the best person . Engage with written resources we give out.

Every day, we need to divide our time between the needs of all patients. Instead of the quality, understanding, face to face conversation we would all prefer, we may need our reception to pass on messages or direct you to other services. This creates time for us to spend with those who need us most.

If you feel let down, it may be reasonable to feel angry, but please remain respectful to staff. Whilst most patients are understanding, abuse is a now a daily reality. Many of us can't do a better job than we're doing. It may get worse yet. The most important thing is that I want us not to blame or shame one another as most patients and doctors are doing the best they can.

Dr Ben Allen wrote this piece as an apology and an explanation to ‘anyone who is disappointed with us as a a profession, or who may become so in the future.’

For more on the demand facing doctor’s surgeries in Sheffield, see this week’s Sheffield Telegraph.

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