A GROWING population, increase in the number of elderly patients and greater focus on preventative therapy are all causing further strain on an overloaded health care system, according to Banbridge Group Surgery.
In response to recent criticisms from patients - and highlighted in this newspaper - group chairperson, Dr Oonagh McCloskey, said the surgery strived to provide a “service of excellent clinical care”.
Earlier this month, a number of patients complained that current appointment waiting times were unacceptable, while others labelled the service a “disgrace”.
One man said he had to wait two weeks to see a doctor and was then faced with a further 45-minute delay on the day his consultation was due.
However, in a long statement issued to the Leader this week, Dr McCloskey pointed out that staff worked tirelessly and were “under pressure on a daily basis”.
Doctors, she said, had on average a 10-minute lunch break, while administrative staff had a huge volume of work to sort through during their 37-hour week.
“There are 877 surgery appointments available with 11 doctors and 67 appointments with the nurse practitioner on a weekly basis,” she said. “Our treatment room nurse treat over 100 patients on a daily basis.
“The patient population currently cared for by our surgery is in excess of 19,000 and last year 1,873 patients did not attend their appointments - this blocks appointments for others.”
Dr McCloskey said growth in the community was causing further strain to “an already overloaded system”.
“Our elderly population is growing exponentially as preventative treatment for heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and diabetes improves life expectancy,” she added. “Our healthcare remit is increasingly focusing on preventative therapy.
“As a result, we monitor and review all our heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, diabetic, asthma, COPD and osteoporotic patients regularly.
“We also administer the seasonal flu vaccination to around 3,800 patients every autumn and we perform in the region of 1,250 smears every year.”
With regard to the actual structure of the system, the chairperson explained routine or ‘non urgent’ slots were allocated to each doctor each day.
“Emergency slots are also available on a daily basis to accommodate acute illness as well as nurse practitioner clinics in the morning,” she said. “When all of these appointments are full and if a patient is urgently and acutely ill, they may be seen by a doctor as an ‘extra’ patient.
“During the past winter, even with extra surgeries time-tabled, our consultation figures and telephone calls were up by 30 per cent.”
An unfortunate consequences of all this pressure, she continued, were incidents of abuse directed by patients at staff.
“Our staff are regularly abused by certain members of the public but they understand that patients are worried, stressed and afraid,” said Dr McCloskey. “We do not condone aggression towards any of our staff. We have a complaints procedure document available for use.”
Any suggestions for further improvement are welcome and correspondence should be addressed to the practice nurse, Mrs Nicola Cummings.