Letter: GP home visits are often essential

This letter sent to the Star was written by CM Langan, Sheffield, S8

Monday, 23rd December 2019, 7:04 am
GP home visits
GP home visits

For once in my life (put the flags up and sound the fanfare), I’ve agreed with health secretary Matt Hancock. He has rejected the request of a group of doctors to put a stop to GPs’ home visits.

Okay, I acknowledge that the days of the good old family doctor calling to the house, seeing the patient, then settling down for a ‘cuppa’ and sampling home baking are now for the most part, dead and gone. They are now stretched to full capacity. They’re extremely “time poor” and home visits are highly time-consuming. In short, there are way too many patients and far too few GPs.

However, home visits are often essential for the severely ill, elderly and disabled. Getting to the surgery would be a logistical nightmare at best, a total impossibility at worst. I know it would take three men and a horse to get my 87-year-old mother there! There are conditions like severe ME, agoraphobia and anything potentially contagious to take into consideration, and highly disabling symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea, especially in smaller surgeries with limited toilet facilities.

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Certainly, as proposed, a homecare team comprising of nurses or paramedics could handle some of these cases, but not all of them, especially the most severely ill, those under palliative care and those for whom a diagnosis is in doubt.

Practising GPs who also write for newspapers, Drs Martin Scurr and Ellie Cannon, have written against scrapping home visits, which they see as the beating heart of general practice and an excellent means of seeing patients’ problems in their full and true context, therefore giving them further insight into their condition. One example may be spotting mould in the home of someone with asthma or another lung condition. It’s amazing how much can be overlooked in your own ‘habitat’ when you’re so accustomed to everything that you fail to question them or see them as having any role to play in your state of health.

Another inevitability of home visits being scrapped is an increasing strain on A&E who are also already stretched to full capacity.

Having said all that, if there’s a ghost of a chance that you or a loved one can un-traumatically get to the surgery, then go! It will save an infinite amount of the GP’s precious time, more equipment is available and it’s a lot easier to examine you on a couch than on a bed or sofa, with the dog barking, doorbell ringing and a thousand and one other domestic distractions.

If you really and truly can’t get to the surgery though (and not just because you can’t be bothered with the short bus journey or don’t want to miss ‘Tipping Point’(!), then you should, without question, be able to request a home visit and be allocated one or at least be given clear instructions of any feasible alternative if the GP’s workload renders it impossible.

After all, if you’re ill, you’re ill, and everyone is entitled to the appropriate medical care when it is required.