DURING the height of the Covid pandemic, people tended to stay away from doctors’ surgeries.

It was partly due to lockdown when people became accustomed to staying in.

Some were also frightened of catching Covid from surgeries and hospitals.

And it was partly out of respect for the NHS. Everyone knew it was under inordinate pressure and did not want to add to that burden.

So they waited. But the conditions and illnesses did not go away.

But when lockdown eased, patients began to return wanting their now exacerbated illnesses to be cured.

GPs, who had worked diligently under difficult circumstances throughout the pandemic, found themselves under siege.

And suddenly the cracks which had always been present in the fragile health service began to open.

It had been well documented that the number of GPs nationally was falling, even before the pandemic.

Analysis, carried out by the Liberal Democrats, reveals the mid-Essex area, which includes Colchester, is one of the worst hit areas in the country when it comes to a growing shortage of GPs.

As a result, many people are struggling to book an appointment, and many services are left facing increasing pressure due to rising demand.

Figures show there is now just one GP per 2,429 people in mid-Essex and Colchester, as of June, compared to the national average of one GP per 2,038 people, according to analysis by the House of Commons library.

It means shortages have risen by seven per cent in the area within the past five years.

The number of GPs employed in the area has also fallen by four per cent to just 164 in the same period while further investigation by the British Medical Association showed there are more than 1,900 fewer fully-qualified, full-time GPs nationally now than in 2015.

The picture is similarly bleak when compared to the UK’s international neighbours. Similar statistics from 2019 show the UK’s average of three doctors per 1,000 people ranks below the likes of Hungary and Czech Republic, and only just ahead of Brazil and Mexico.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Reflecting on the statistics uncovered by the party, Martin Goss, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesman for Colchester, said: “The Conservative Government are badly letting down both GPs and patients in Mid Essex and Colchester.

“Residents deserve a fair deal.

“The worsening GP shortage has given rise to a postcode lottery, with our hard-working GPs overstretched and people left waiting too long for treatment or even an appointment.

“Families rely on being able to see a GP when they or their children fall sick to get advice, access treatment and get well again.

“The Government must invest more in our GP practices and train up more doctors, to ensure patients get the fair deal they deserve.”

When approached by the Gazette, the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group said it continues to support its staff.

A spokesman said: “Primary care services are delivered by many different health care professionals, not only GPs, and include physiotherapists, nurse practitioners and mental health professionals.

“They all work as a team to deliver the best of care to patients.

“We know how hard our teams work and we continue to support them in recruiting a skilled mix of health professionals to offer safe, quality care.

“This includes the recruitment and retention of GPs, and we actively work alongside the local GP Support Hub to underpin GP careers and wellbeing in north east Essex and Suffolk.”

And while Rome burns, politics continues.

Government ministers and GPs have clashed over how many patients GPs see in person.

The Government has handed GP practices £250million to take on temporary staff, but the British Medical Association has hit back saying it was “hugely dismayed” with the plan, saying it would not solve the problems.

The winter rescue package came on the day NHS England released its latest monthly data for hospital performance.

One of the main reasons for growing pressure on hospital A&Es was put down to lack of access to GPs.

As a result, the A&E performance in England was the worst since 2004, when the four-hour target to see patients was initiated.

The most seriously-ill and frail patients also faced record-long waits for a bed after being admitted to a ward, labelled ‘trolley-waits’.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Shrub End and Berechurch councillor Dave Harris has voiced his concerns about patients’ difficulties booking a doctor’s appointment.

He said even registering for a new doctor’s surgery is proving a struggle for newcomers to Colchester, as well as those trying to secure a face-to-face appointment.

But he did not lay the blame at the doctors’ feet.

He added: “People can’t get registered with a doctor and are waiting absolutely ages just to get an appointment and the staff at these surgeries are really up against it.

“The people who are suffering are those who need a referral for a disease and need time for treatment, but the elderly can’t sit on the phone waiting to talk to somebody for 40 minutes.

“For me, something needs to be done at the coalface.”

Mr Harris added he has been raising the issue with Essex County Council’s cabinet member for health, John Spence, in an attempt to put pressure on senior decision-makers to improve staffing levels at GP surgeries.

The Labour councillor added the difficulties were by no means down to a lack of effort on the staff’s part – rather he says the lack of NHS employees means that the quality of service is declining.

“It isn’t the surgeries fault – there are too many patients and not enough doctors,” Mr Harris added.

“We need to up the ante a bit so we can see what the Ministry of Health are doing about this.”