PATIENTS have told of their frustration over GP appointment delays and a continued reliance on telephone and online consultations due to Covid risks as practices face “unprecedented” demand.

A 75-year-old woman, who has previously suffered two heart attacks, said she was told by a practice in North Lanarkshire that “it wasn’t safe to come in” after asking for a check-up because she was experiencing dizzy spells.

Dr Andrew Buist, chairman of BMA Scotland’s GP committee said he would be disappointed to hear of any practices refusing to see patients where necessary because "they are an important part of what we do”. All initial consultations are being done over the phone or online to minimise the number of patients coming into surgeries. 

However, one surgery in the west end of Glasgow, when contacted by The Herald, said it was not holding any face-to-face appointments, while a patient in Hamilton in South Lanarkshire said she was told by a receptionist it was “telephone or nothing”.

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GPs say they are coping with “unprecedented” demand, caused by a “perfect storm” of patients coming forward after delaying seeking help during lockdown, coupled with flu vaccine calls and Covid-19-related enquiries against a backdrop of staff shortages.

One doctor told the Herald last week that he was having to correct hospital consultants who were advising patients that GPs are not seeing patients in person.

A patient from North Lanarkshire says she contacted her GP asking if she could have a check-up because she was concerned about symptoms after suffering previous heart attacks.

She said: “My husband has been very unwell and I’ve been under stress for 18 months.

“Just recently I’ve been having light-headedness.

"I thought I would phone and ask if I could have a general check. I phoned on Wednesday and got through very quickly, which is not normally the case. I explained I had been under stress, that my husband has cancer. 

“The receptionist said she would put me through and I waited 38 minutes and 24 seconds to speak to the nurse or doctor.

Then whoever it was said, “I don’t think it’s safe enough for you to come down’.

“She said ‘Are you having high blood pressure?’. I replied, ‘I don’t know, that’s one of the reasons I wanted a check. I’ve had two heart attacks before.’ I tried seven times and then gave up. 

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“It’s safe enough to go shopping, it’s safe enough to got to a restaurant but it’s not safe enough to go to the doctor’s.”

Another retired GP in the Highlands said both he and another retired colleague had experienced “great difficulty” accessing GP appointments and hospital follow-ups for their wives “one with a very serious and sudden onset illness.”

There are fears the shift to telemedicine will also have an adverse effect on poorer or elderly patients.

Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at Edinburgh University, said: “The problem with digital medicine is that you do exclude a section of society. 

“My uncle in Peebles doesn’t have a webcam so before we were prevented from visiting other people’s houses I had to go to the Borders and install a camera because he needed to be able to see his GP.
“He had my support for that but I agree that there will be many who don’t.
“We are never going to go back to the model we had before and I think the public needs to get the message that this is the new reality.

"It’s going to be default digital and I don’t disagree with that.
“I know people might find that frustrating but surgeries are still open for business and 
trying very hard to see as many patients.”

A Scottish group that works with older people said it was concerned elderly people were struggling to reach GPs.

A spokeswoman for the group said: “The feedback from seniors is frustration. They speak to a receptionist and if they deem the call non-urgent, they advise to call back, or it is explained that the GP is only attending to emergencies.

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“Some of them tell me they don’t want to bother the GP, as they know they are busy, and struggle through pain and discomfort, unnecessarily - that’s their mind-set on it, they, “get on with it”.

“Medication/prescription on repeat or items to be added to the prescription can be mixed up too, if someone has been discharged form hospital and it’s been changed.

“The GP is very important to them, they are very trusting of the GP and their advice.”

Dr Andrew Buist, who is also a practising GP at Ardblair medical practice in Blairgowrie, said: “I would be disappointed if a practice has no face-to-face capacity – it’s important they have this where it’s appropriate and necessary.

“There should be no blanket bans on face-to-face consultations, they are an important part of what we do.

“There’s many things you can fix for a patient by telephone but there are of course important cases where the doctor wants to see the patient."