Open letter to patients from Dr Sanders on behalf of all the GPs at BCHC




It has been really lovely to finally return to being able to actually see more of our patients again as the rules have relaxed so people can chose to see us face to face.   Of course, we have always seen everyone face to face if needed throughout the pandemic; but we needed to ensure everyone’s safety.  We can still manage a lot on the phone (and that can be very convenient both for staff and patients) - but the increased ability to see each other has been a pleasure.  It reminds me of why I became a GP in the first place; and like all the team here at BCHC we really try to focus on excellent patient care, and really do want to do the best for our patients.

The last 2 and a half years have been tough for all of us and the NHS is struggling to cope with the backlogs and the consequences of covid; and significant underfunding over many years.  We understand your frustration at the difficulty of getting appointments and we feel it too.  The NHS waiting lists have now reached 7 million and this is increasing the demand on our services.

Over the last few years there has been a catastrophic drop in both the number of GPs and practice nurses.  In 2021/22 there were 4200 too few GPs and this now stands at 6000.  In the next few years it is predicted that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 2 GP posts will be empty.  GPs are rapidly leaving the profession due to the increased demands of the job and too few doctors and GPs are being trained to replace them.  The same applies to nurses (in fact it’s probably even worse).  These decisions on training numbers are controlled by the government who have done little or nothing to increase the numbers.  This is affecting Banbury Cross Health Centre as well as all practices across the country. 

At the same time demand for appointments rises and rises.  The population is ageing, people are on incredibly long NHS waiting lists and need repeated appointments to help them manage; and also the evidence says that patients are requesting increasing numbers of appointments every year.  This August 2022, practices in England delivered a staggering three million more appointments than in the same month in 2019.  But it is still not enough. 

This is why it may feel that ‘things have changed’ at your GP practice.  I can promise you that we are all working harder than we have ever worked and that we all care enormously – but your own named GP is dealing with a much larger list of patients.  So, we need to be sure they are only seeing the patients that can only be seen by a GP.  We have employed lots of new team members with expertise to help us – pharmacists, physiotherapists, advanced nurse practitioners, paramedics, social prescribers and many more.  These manage many conditions much better than a GP ever could – but also will always discuss with a GP if they need to.  Every time you see someone other than a GP then you are helping us to keep GP appointments free for those who really need them.  And I promise you will be getting excellent care by experts in their own field.

This is why we ask you to speak to our call centre and be ‘triaged’.  We have trained this team to ask key questions to ensure you see the right person for your problem.  We also need to encourage people who can ‘self manage’ and/or speak to another service such as their community pharmacy.  We know there are long queues on the phone but can promise you we have a large team answering and some days we will get more than 1000 calls per day.  Please be patient with us.  Everyone is working hard and doing their best.

Going forward we are constantly looking at our systems and aiming to be as responsive to our patients as is possible.   So we welcome your feedback.  But we cannot ask any of our team to work any harder.  They are already almost certainly working too hard and we need to look after the team as well as the patients.  Otherwise they won’t be there when you need them.  Things may take longer – especially if you are asking us for something that is not an NHS service (forms etc).  But we will always prioritise patients who are unwell and focus on our core service to patients.

I hope if you have read to the end of this letter that you understand the pressure we are under.  We welcome feedback to the practice and will always respond.  If you remain frustrated at the changes you have seen as a patient then I would encourage you to ask those in power what they are actually doing to help General Practice.  Ask your MP what they are actually doing about the rapid decline in GP and nurse numbers?  Ask them why reduced the number of doctors training back down to 7500 this year?  Ask them why they raise expectations with announcements such as ‘all patients to be able to see a GP within 2 weeks’ without actually having any plan to achieve this?  Ask them why the wait for some mental health assessments locally is more than 2 years?  And any other question you would like answered……….

I have worked here at BCHC for many years and hope to work with this great team for many more. I still love my job and can promise all of you that everyone here strives to do our best for our patients. I am proud that we are a practice that excels at Research and Training and we are doing our best to train more GPs as well as other health professionals.  We want to make primary care better for the future, but we need your help too.  In other words, please take out your frustrations on those who have the power to do something.  Please be kind to our team who will honestly be trying to do their best in challenging times.  

Let’s hope 2023 brings better times for all of us,

Dr Ann Sanders on behalf of all the GP s at BCHC

Published: Oct 19, 2022