Birmingham UNISON Retired Members Section set up a survey to see if anecdotal evidence that older members of the community are getting a reduced health service because of the pandemic is backed by clear evidence.
The survey is a response to the growing number of our members (who are in the 60 plus age group) expressing concern, frustration and anxiety over the difficulties they are facing in accessing NHS and Primary Care services.
The Retired Members group compiled the survey, and it was sent out to all retired members with email addresses using the branch’s ‘Survey Gizmo’.
A total of 87 retired members replied, the majority responding from the B14 and B30 postal areas of Birmingham. The survey was carried out over December 2020, concluding on 8 January 2021. The full survey findings can be found at: https://reporting.alchemer.eu/r/90008316_6001c95939dc45.00890760
The main findings:
- The survey has indicated there is a major problem with a more vulnerable section of society – where health issues will generally be more urgent – accessing GP services, leading to frustration and fears that the delays being encountered could affect people’s health.
- In the main, the majority have received diagnostic treatment within their original appointment schedule.
- The survey has shown however, some alarming examples of people with serious conditions having important if not vital procedures being cancelled. It should also be remembered this survey was concluded on 8 January, just as the country went into a further lockdown, and spiralling Covid cases has meant much non-emergency health treatment has been cancelled by most hospitals, and respondents may now begin to suffer cancellations.
- On the positive side, the survey has disproved previous anecdotal evidence about access to flu jabs and prescribed medicines, or people being directed to Pharmacies before being allowed a consultation with their GP.
Summary – Key Findings
1. Access to GPs
- The biggest issue was access to GPs. Nearly 52 % (44) of respondents said they had had difficulty in getting an appointment. While most had to wait around a week to get an appointment, 8 respondents had to wait longer than a month.
- Only 9 respondents had face to face consultations with their GP, while 58 had phone or remote consultations.
Typical comments included:
‘Harder to get appointments on day to talk to doctor who knows one’s history’
‘Delays with getting through and then being screened so have to divulge what your medical concern is and then told whether you are eligible for a telephone consultation’
‘Telephone lines are open at 8am. When you get through it is an automated voice. You can’t skip it you have to listen for a good 3 minutes, about COVID procedure, if you have chest pains etc etc. When able to press the option required, you are in a long queue. When through to receptionist all the appointments are gone!’’
‘I found what I thought was a lump in right my breast… I rang the surgery on the Friday and was told that the surgery was closed for training. I rang on the Monday and was informed that there were no doctors in the surgery because they were all isolating. I was told to go on the surgery website and ask a question!’
- On the positive side, there had been reports of people being directed to a Pharmacy before being allowed a consultation with a GP, but only 4 respondents reported this, indicating it must be an isolated case.
2. Hospital Services
- Of the respondents, 28 were referred to a hospital Consultant. While only three had to wait a week, the majority – 11 – had to wait longer than 3 months.
- Similarly, those who required hospital treatment as an out-patient, again had long waits, with only 1 respondent being seen within a week, while 11 had to wait longer than 2 months.
- Of the respondents, 9 had a diagnosis of cancer or a heart condition – the majority experienced long waits before receiving treatment, with only one being seen within a week, while at the other end of the spectrum, 2 had to wait 2 months, 1 waited 3 months, and another over 3 months.
- Of the 43 respondents being referred for diagnostic tests (scans, blood tests, ECG etc) 10 were seen within a week. However, 8 had to wait a month, while a further 8 waited longer than 3 months.
Some of the more alarming comments included:
‘GP phone consultation followed by appointment for a blood test (10 days wait). Received result but unable to speak with GP to discuss any further action that maybe required to resolve ongoing medical complaint’
‘After having a prostatectomy I had one follow up consultation and was told the next one would be four months later. This was cancelled three times, ending in a telephone consultation. I could not get a blood test at the hospital, so I requested one from my doctor’s with the nurse – luckily for me my PSA was low ‘
‘Saw GP on 19 February and urgent scan recommended. Hospital postponed scan for 3 weeks, then 4, then 6, then 10 – then postponed until September. Still no word from GP or hospital’
‘I have a heart condition and have had two replacement valves. I have permanent fibrillation. During this year I have had two appointments with my consultant in Queen Elizabeth hospital by phone only! This had meant I’ve had a heart monitor fitted for 24 hrs, and no one has seen me at all, just looked at the results and increased my medication. It is impossible to get any service at all via my GP practice’
- On the positive side, of the 54 respondents with appointments for medical procedures, 33 had not had any appointments cancelled.
3. Flu jabs & medication
- A positive result is that the vast majority of respondents (69) had not had any difficulty in getting access to a seasonal flu vaccination, with only 3 saying they had not been able to obtain a flu jab.
- Similarly, there is little evidence of any respondents having trouble accessing prescribed medication, with only 1 respondent out of 80 saying they had a problem.
- As the survey has indicated, there is a major problem with a more vulnerable section of society – where health issues will generally be more urgent – accessing GP services, leading to frustration and fears that the delays being encountered could affect people’s health.
- The survey has shown some alarming examples of people with serious conditions having important if not vital procedures being cancelled. In the main though, the majority have received diagnostic treatment within their original appointment schedule. However, it should be remembered this survey was concluded on 8 January, just as the country went into a further lockdown, and spiralling Covid cases has meant much non-emergency health treatment has been cancelled by most hospitals, and respondents may now begin to suffer cancellations.
- Also, on the positive side, the survey has disproved anecdotal evidence about access to flu jabs and prescribed medicines.
– Maureen Wade
Chair, Birmingham UNISON Retired Members