People turning to DIY health treatment amid shortage of GP appointments

Almost one in four people have bought medicine online or at a pharmacy to treat their illness after failing to see a GP face to face, according to a UK survey underlining the rise of do-it-yourself treatment.

Nearly one in five (19%) have gone to A&E seeking urgent medical treatment for the same reason, the research commissioned by the Liberal Democrats shows.

One in six (16%) people agreed when asked by the pollsters Savanta ComRes if the difficulty of getting an in-person family doctor appointment meant they had “carried out medical treatment on yourself or asked somebody else who is not a medical professional to do so”.

The research – among 2,061 UK adults who were representative of the overall population – also found that 11% had paid for care from a private medical service. That is in line with a recent finding from the Office for National Statistics that one in eight Britons have either paid themselves for private treatment or used their medical insurance to access private-sector care as a direct result of the increasing difficulty patients face in accessing NHS services.

Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said delays and difficulty in accessing GP appointments constituted a national scandal, and face-to-face GP appointments had become “almost extinct” in some areas of the country.

He said: “We now have the devastating situation where people are left treating themselves or even self-prescribing medication because they can’t see their local GP.”

He blamed years of neglect of the NHS by successive Conservative governments, especially ministers breaking promises to expand the GP workforce in England.

Dr Richard Van Mellaerts, the deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee in England, said: “While self-care and consulting other services such as pharmacies and NHS 111 will often be the right thing to do for many minor health conditions, it is worrying if patients feel forced into inappropriate courses of action because they are struggling to book an appointment for an issue that requires the attention of a GP or a member of practice staff.”

But he said the Lib Dems’ call for patients to be given the right to see a GP within a week was “an impossible task” unless the decline in the number of family doctors was arrested.

Dr Margaret Ikpoh, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We understand patients’ distress and frustrations when they are unable to get a GP appointment, but we must not put the blame on hardworking GPs and their teams, who are doing their absolute best in extremely difficult circumstances to meet the healthcare needs of their patients.”

Meanwhile, as many as 500 people a week may be dying because of delays in emergency care, the leader of Britain’s A&E doctors has said.

Speaking to Times Radio, Dr Adrian Boyle, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said a bad flu season was compounding systemic problems in the NHS and leading to hundreds of unnecessary deaths.

He said: “We need to be in a situation where we cannot just shrug our shoulders and say, ‘This winter was terrible, let’s do nothing until next winter.’ We cannot continue like this – it is unsafe and it is undignified.

“What we’re seeing now in terms of these long waits is being associated with increased mortality, and we think somewhere between 300 and 500 people are dying as a consequence of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care each week.”

Responding to the Lib Dems’ survey, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures GPs are under and are working to increase access for patients. Guidance is clear that GP practices must provide face-to-face appointments alongside remote consultations – and over two-thirds of appointments in November were face to face.

“As of September 2022, there are almost 2,300 more full-time-equivalent doctors working in general practice compared to September 2019. There are also record numbers in GP training, and since 2019 we have recruited over 21,000 additional staff into general practice.”


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