Inappropriate phone calls to NI’s under-pressure surgeries revealed
A woman rang her GP to request a letter to prove she was fit to take part in a world record attempt to squeeze as many people as possible into a Mini.
Another patient asked their GP to write a letter to excuse their child from having to queue for attractions at a holiday park, while another patient wanted a letter to get their grass cut by the council.
They are among the telephone calls being fielded by GP surgery staff who are dealing with up to 200,000 patient contacts a week in Northern Ireland.
The service is coming under increasing pressure as a result of a combination of soaring hospital waiting lists and a lack of GPs and support staff — prompting growing complaints from patients who can make more than 100 calls before they get through to their surgery.
However, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal details of the inappropriate demands being placed on the service, which are making it more difficult for those who are unwell to access GP services. One GP said a quarter of telephone calls made to his surgery on a daily basis are requests for medication available to buy from the pharmacist.
Another GP said a patient had red eye and spoke to the practice pharmacist who appropriately advised over the counter medication. The patient subsequently rang back “demanding” to speak to the doctor.
When the GP spoke to the patient, they said they wanted a prescription for the medication as they weren’t prepared to pay £3.45 for the treatment.
Other examples of demands on the overstretched service include:
Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland GP committee, said: “There are an extraordinary amount of calls and requests made every day.
“GPs are dealing with calls about all sorts of things, we get asked to help with applications to the Housing Executive, we get asked to provide letters for children to be excused from exams or submitting coursework.
“I am always reluctant to describe these calls as inappropriate, they may seem inappropriate from our perspective but to the individual making the request, it is entirely appropriate.
“I think the issue is that it is almost too easy to just pick up the phone and ask the GP to do something for you — so for example, we have people ringing us when they are applying for their driving licence.
“We get an awful lot of requests from companies to confirm that a person lives where they say they live and all we can tell them is that is the address they have given us, that’s the only confirmation we can give.
“We spend an awful lot of time dealing with the likes of PIP applications, that is a quite a significant issue. We can fill in the application and the patient can come back to us six, seven or eight times for more evidence to support their application. That’s maybe eight contacts and multiple consultations for just one issue, which can take up quite a significant amount of time.”
Dr Stout said patients will continue to experience problems accessing GP services while demand outstrips available resources. Currently, GPs in Northern Ireland are dealing with 200,000 contacts a week, of which a third result in face-to-face appointments.