GP shortage puts pressure on Redbridge and Havering

Redbridge and Havering are struggling with a shortage of GPs compared to the rest of London.

As of October, the two boroughs had an average of one doctor for every 2,150 residents – 190 more than the London average.

NHS North East London’s (NHS NEL) director of strategy and partnerships Jo Moss said there is “quite a bit of variation” in the number of GPs between boroughs, which is an issue the local health service needs to “collectively address”.

To tackle the shortage of GPs in some parts of East London, NHS England has a programme to encourage newly qualified doctors and nurses to train and settle in the area.

The October figures are a significant improvement compared to June last year, when there were more than 2,500 patients per GP in Waltham Forest, Redbridge, Havering and Barking and Dagenham.

Responding to concerns in February, an NHS representative said an “ageing GP population” meant that numbers were standing still even after recruiting new Gps.

NHS NEL, formed in July this year, oversees health services for almost 2.4m registered patients in eight east London boroughs – from the City of London to Havering on the edge of London.

Waltham Forest now has the equivalent of 1,950 patients per GP, which is higher than the London average.

NHS North East London is also aware of concerns about face-to-face appointments and receptionists “triaging” patients.

In September, NHS NEL told Waltham Forest Council’s health scrutiny committee that face-to-face appointments will only be offered “where clinically appropriate”.

It rejected the committee’s call to directly monitor how GPs are using “triage” to prioritise patients who are asking for an appointment.

Jo told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that across London, only 45 per cent of GP appointments were face-to-face in recent months.

She added that NHS NEL does now “acknowledge” concerns from residents and local watchdog Healthwatch.

Despite NHS NEL’s wide-reaching role as commissioner, she said the health body does not have an “explicit role” overseeing how patients are triaged or appointments are offered, as these decisions are left to individual practices.

However, in response to practices giving receptionists “extended roles”, NHS NEL does offer “training programmes” and is “keen to work with” residents to address concerns.

She added: “I think it’s important to acknowledge that appointments in general practice can be delivered in a variety of different ways, it very much depends on patient need.

“I think it is also important to state that there isn’t a universal approach to roles for receptionists because that is dependent on individual arrangements in the GP practice.”

Earlier this year Healthwatch Redbridge’s chief executive Cathy Turland complained that practice staff are “gatekeeping” face-to-face appointments and that patient choice has been “eroded completely”.

Cathy added: “There is a gatekeeping aspect from staff answering phones that you do not get face-to-face – you get telephone appointments first, you are triaged first.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter