STAFF and doctors in GP surgeries locally are “stressed and exhausted” with the level and intensity of their present workload.
The Southern GP Federation Support Unit / Newry &District Federation believe a challenging Winter lies ahead with the likelihood of a vaccination programme along with a likely upsurge in both Covid cases and other illness such as the flu.
The federation outlined the pressures currently being faced by local GP surgeries as outgoing NMD Council Chairperson Laura Devlin was a welcome visitor to Newry Health Village.
“General practice needs the support of the public, and public representatives, more than ever.
Staff and doctors in practices continue to work differently compared to before the pandemic, but are stressed and exhausted with the level and intensity of workload.
“ Unfortunately morale has been further eroded by some ill-informed comments in the press and social media, perpetuating the myth that surgery doors are closed and practices are not working.
“The workload is now back to the pre-Covid "normal", and yet we still have to work in a very different way, to ensure that surgeries are a safe place for patients who need to attend. Telephone &/or video consultation as the first step needs to continue for the immediate future.”
Stressing that Covid hasn’t gone away, the statement continues:
“General practice pre-Covid is incredibly busy, with many of our patients suffering pain & distress while awaiting treatment in hospital, with waiting lists the longest in the UK, and too few GPs, practice nurses and other practice clinicians.
All of this applies still - but now with longer waiting lists, and the continuing pandemic, with triage of patient symptoms, staffing of Covid Centres and the vaccine programme. The coming winter will be very challenging, with the likely need for a booster vaccination programme as well as a likely upsurge both in Covid cases and other illnesses such as flu.
Covid is now circulating at a lower level in the community, but hasn't gone away, people with symptoms of fever, new cough or loss of taste or smell still need to be tested. You may need to await your test result before being seen in the surgery. Face-to-face consultations necessarily take longer than before the pandemic, with the need to infection control measures, so we still need to ensure that patients are only brought in to the surgery if there is a clinical need to do so.
We realise that the public want to turn the clock back to February 2020 and have everything as it was before, GPs would also love to, but we really can't at this point.
And if you're eligible for a vaccine and haven't had it yet, please do so, to protect yourself and others.
Cllr Devlin praised the efforts of the Health Care staff: “I was delighted to visit The Health Village in Newry. What a year it has been for our society and nowhere is this more evident than in General Practice. General Practice has changed and adapted due to the pandemic because it had no other option.
I heard first-hand the stories from the doctors and their teams, especially those taking the calls and doing their best, in often quite challenging of circumstances. I think many of us are guilty of overlooking primary care and focusing on our A&Es and our vaccination centres.
Our GPs have been an extremely important and vital cog in the wheel and I wish to thank them and their staff, the full length and breadth of our district for their hard work and determination, especially over the past 15 months. These GP practices have been available throughout, but they remain under significant pressures due to the growing hospital waiting list combined with the impact that Covid continues to have on how they operate and accommodate social distancing for example.
We have brighter days ahead. Our GPs would love nothing more than to return to the pre-Covid ways of practice, but for now that simply wouldn’t be safe. I have been further advised that as the pandemic comes to an end, they will again adapt and adjust to delivering primary care in the most appropriate way that they can for their patients.”
Dr Patricia King spoke of the tireless work being carried out everyday in dealing with calls and helping patients.
“Before Covid, a GP like every other part of the Health Service was already struggling to meet demand. We ran pre-booked surgeries of 10min appointments which were booked out at least two weeks in advance.
“There were multiple additional emergency appointments every day. Our waiting room was packed. Social distancing would have been impossible. Covid forced us to change our way of working overnight. All of our receptionists received training in call handling. This was vital so that calls, particularly emergency calls are dealt with safely and appropriately.
“We, in Clanrye Medical Practice are very fortunate to have a multi-disciplinary team which includes two practice nurses, a treatment room nurse, phlebotomists, physio, mental health workers, a pharmacist and a very busy reception team led by our practice manager.
“ All of this team work tirelessly every day dealing with calls from our patients. As well as telephone calls we utilise virtual consultations,this includes a secure service which allows photos to be sent via a text message. We are still seeing patients face to face every day. Patients still need to be seen and examined. Several practices in N. Ireland had already adopted this triage model before Covid as a way of managing demand.Throughout the pandemic, the staff of CMP have worked extremely hard for our all our patients. As well as our usual work we have helped to staff the Covid centre in Banbridge and delivered Covid vaccines. While our way of working now is different, it is safer and believe me we are working harder than ever.”
Dr Elaine King added:
“The past 15 months have been extremely challenging for all of our staff at Cornmarket Surgery. Overnight we were forced to change our usual way of working as a result of the Covid 19 Pandemic.Telephone triage of all contacts at the surgery became essential to ensure the safety of all our patients and staff with face to face appointments being offered as necessary on a daily basis.
Demand, however has increased, and our entire surgery team have worked tirelessly to provide ongoing primary care services. Staff have worked overtime without hesitation and have shown remarkable dedication to our patients.
In addition, to our usual services, we have also provided cover for the Covid Centre in Banbridge and under the organisation of our practice manager have delivered over 2,000 covid vaccinations.
The collective efforts and innovation of our entire team has ensured that our surgery has remained open, throughout this very difficult period. We also appreciate the support and understanding of our patients who have so readily adapted to the new arrangements for accessing GP services.’