People self-medicating as some making ‘over 100 calls’ to speak to GP practices - Derry Councillor

Some people locally are having to ring over 100 times to try to book an appointment at their GP surgery and are even turning to dangerous self-medication, a Councillor has warned.

Other Councillors also concurred with Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly that there was a major and deepening crisis, while stressing that this was absolutely not the fault of the doctors themselves.

Addressing the Chamber as he tabled a motion on the issue, Colr. Donnelly said ‘things have got worse’ since a similar motion by Colr. Paul Gallagher was passed last June. 

Councillor Donnelly said: “It is beyond any doubt that there exists an increasingly significant problem with people being able to gain access to their GP. Attempts to get an appointment often means dozens of phone calls, in some instances over 100 times before they hear a human voice.

Independent Derry & Strabane Councillor Gary Donnelly.

“In a lot of instances the voice will inform them that they will have to phone again tomorrow as there are no longer any appointments available for that particular day. This situation can continue for days, weeks and months and in a lot of cases the potential patient has given up trying and suffers with the complaint.

“This often dangerous state of affairs means that not only is the pain and discomfort being endured but it could be delaying treatment of an early diagnosis of a problem which is more serious in nature. In other instances people have become so desperate they have begun self medicating, borrowing medication from others and ordering medication online which is guess work. This is the last resort people are turning to.”

“Although highly dangerous, the medical condition or pain is causing them to take a chance as often they feel they have no option. This inevitably will lead to further pressure on an already run down health service as misdiagnosis and potentially adverse reactions to taking the wrong medication will lead to worsening and more acute health problems.”

Colr. Donnelly added: “There will be those willing to score cheap political points and exploit the situation in Stormont. The reality is the situation has been deteriorating for a number of years and wasn’t a great deal better before the pandemic struck.  It would be disingenuous to heap all the blame on the Covid situation and lack of a functioning Executive. There is no doubt that there exists a serious crisis in the health service and the deterioration of GP services is adding to this.”

Describing the situation as ‘unacceptable for constituents’, Aontú Councillor Emmet Doyle said he was surprised to hear that the phone call triage system is going to be around for quite some time. “It’s time people got back into doctors’ surgeries,” he said.

SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said the issue was ‘something this council should be taking an interest in and doing all we can to support people getting back in to see their GP,’ before pointing out that some GPs have been working around the clock throughout the pandemic. He added: “Now is the time we should put our support behind the GPs because I don’t think any GP wants to not see their patients and I don’t think the GPs want their patients to be self medicating or anything like that.”

Councillors from all parties offered their support for the motion with Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson stating: “GPs were struggling in our city and district pre-Covid because of the lack of GPs here and some found the telephone triage was a helpful tool, however, it does need to be balanced. There’s no blame on the GPs at all, I think some practices are able to deal with it better whilst others are struggling so they need support.”

There were many similar sentiments expressed. PBP Colr. Maeve O’Neill said: “A lot needs to be done. Everybody is working to their absolute maximum and it isn’t sustainable,” whilst DUP Ald. Maurice Devenney said:  “There is a perception from many of the public out there that GPs aren’t carrying out their work but they have been working tirelessly through Covid whether it was giving jabs or whatever it may be.”

Colr. Gallagher stated that ‘this isn’t about GP bashing’. He commented: “Since the last motion myself and other councillors have met with GPs in Strabane and we have heard their predicament and case and fully understand where they are coming from.

“The reason this motion has come back up again and will continue to come back up again is because our residents treat the GP services as a very valuable service and when it’s not getting fully implemented then that’s why they are coming to elected members and they want the service put back fully and for it to be fully implemented. The resolution for this has to come from on high. GPs have to be given the resources to deliver this valuable service to our residents.”

The motion passed with one abstention, agreeing that council will write to the Department of Health and British Medical Association regarding one to one access to GP services, and to invite them to a Health and Community Committee meeting to outline their plans to alleviate the situation facing citizens across the district.

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter

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