Doctors’ surgeries across Southend are being swamped by patients – and GPs are struggling to cope.
GPs in the borough are now regularly having to deal with more patients than the national, or Essex average, with some looking after more than 3,000 people.
Dr Krishna Chaturvedi, who has a patient list of 3,319 at his surgery in Southbourne Grove, Westcliff, claims NHS cutbacks have left doctors under more pressure than ever.
He added that he wasn’t surprised patients were waiting more than a week to get an appointment.
He said: “We are asking to do more and more, but while losing more and more resources.
“Doctors are under a lot of pressure from hospitals, social services and health boards.
“There is so much bureaucracy in the NHS these days and the goalposts have changed so much.
“Because of the pressures and responsibility that young GPs are now given, it means fewer and fewer of them are coming into the profession.”
A probe of online patient lists and doctors in the borough reveals how there is: - One GP per 1, 843 patients in Leigh
- One GP per 1,673 patients in Shoebury
- One GP per 1,666 patients in Southend
- One GP per 1,363 patients in Westcliff
That is compared to a national average of one GP per 1,350 people, and 1,500 in Essex.
The NHS and Southend Clincal Commissioning Group admit there is a problem with access to doctors in Southend.
However, with both organisations having to cut budgets, money to build new surgeries is unlikely.
Leigh has the highest number of registered patients – an eye-watering 73,751, despite only having a population of just over 20,000 and just 36 doctors to go around.
Richard Herbert, leader of Leigh Town Council, said: “I know in Southend as a whole the system gets a lot of complaints.
“You have to fight to get through from 8am to get an appointment for that day, but by half eight it is fully booked and you have to call back the next day.
“It is a crazy system.”
NHS experts believe they need to recruit 143 extra doctors in the county to match the UK average.
David Webb outside the Westborough Road Health Centre
Patients claim they are struggling to get an appointment at surgeries across the borough because GPs are swamped.
David Webb, 38, of Fairmead Avenue, Westcliff, is constantly finding it hard to get an appointment at Westborough Road Health Centre, which has just one GP per 1,825 patients – the worst ratio in Westcliff.
He said: “Westcliff is one of the most densely populated areas of Southend and it’s so hard to get an appointment.
“It opens at 8am, but if you call up 10 minutes later, you won’t get an appointment. So if you’re really ill, you have to go to A&E, which floods it. It’s a vicious cycle.
“They didn’t replace one of the doctors who retired and instead put them in one bigger centre, but I think they should go back to the old days where there were mini surgeries.”
Sandra Bennett is registered to the Pall Mall surgery, in London Road, Leigh, which has a huge patient list of 16,113 people and only 10 doctors – meaning there is only one GP per 1,611 patients.
She claims that two-week waits for appointments are the norm.
She said: “One of the problems is if you have to see the GP a second time, we are being told the appointment books are not open say two weeks in advance, so you have to phone on the day and hope to get an appointment.
“You just hope you get to see the same doctor. I think the system is broken.”
Seven day a week GP surgeries on the cards for Southend
THE NHS is planning a radical shake-up of the way doctors operate in Southend – including making them available over seven days.
NHS England is looking to set up surgery “hubs” across the borough, where patients would be able to see a GP and not need to go to hospital.
Under the plans, doctors will work together to serve populations of about 20,000 people, and patients will be able to access any GP working for the hub if their surgery is fully booked.
People will also be assigned a specialist doctor, depending on their ailment, in a bid to reduce the number of long-term sick visiting hospital.
A spokesman for NHS England said: “We recognise primary care wants and needs to transformthe way it provides services offered.
As part of this model, seven day working for GP practices has been identified as one of the key priorities.
“One of the proposed ideas is the development of hubs, where patients can be seen by a GP who has a special interest in certain illnesses or conditions.
“This ensures the patient receives the most appropriate treatment, which in turn reassures the patient and reduces the need for a hospital referral. In turn, that reduces waiting times.
Pharmacies will also have a greater role in the new system, including diagnosing and treating minor illnesses, and will manage conditions such as hayfever and skin problems.
As part of the tougher new measures, the NHS has also threatened to axe poorly-performing GP services.
It also claims it will look to introduce training areas in GP surgeries to encourage young doctors to stay in Essex – with many now choosing to go and work in London.
Alan Crystall, a retired dental surgeon and governor at Southend Hospital, hopes the changes will help.
He added: “A lot of surgeries to the east just have one doctor working in them.”
The proposals should be ratified by NHS Essex in the coming months.