Rise in DIY healthcare echoes the backstreet surgery of Dickensian Britain
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It happens because for many people, Christmas is the first time in months that they will have checked in with older relatives or had a visit from them, at which point they will notice a marked deterioration in the health of those relatives.
What follows is a flurry of phone calls to GPs, NHS 24 and local hospitals in search of an appointment. It puts notable strain on primary care. What’s worrying about this year is that primary care was already under intolerable strain, with every health board in the country sounding the alarm over severe problems in both capacity and heightened demand. One in four people in Scotland have tried and failed to get an appointment with their local GP in the past 12 months.
This isn’t the fault of our hard working doctors and community nurses. Staff shortages, which led to a third of local practices reporting unfilled vacancies last year, and a surge in demand following the reopening of society after lockdown,have created a perfect storm. Small wonder then that Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA’s General Practice committee, recently said that Scotland was “sleepwalking into the death of general practice”.
Things are so bad that people are abandoning the quest for an appointment altogether and taking matters into their own hands. A poll commissioned by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and published this week reveals that as many as 1 in 6 people are resorting to DIY healthcare. That’s where they administer treatment or procedures to themselves or ask someone else (who is equally untrained) to do it after failing to secure an appointment.
This is 2023, yet this shocking revelation is an echo of the back-street surgery of Dickensian Britain. We can’t go on like this. It is why Scottish Liberal Democrats have launched a campaign to save primary care in this country. We would increase the number of training places for GPs, introduce an urgent burnout prevention strategy and launch a staff assembly that values their expertise.
We would also embed more nurses, mental health professionals, dieticians and physiotherapists with GPs so that people can get a wider range of diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care within their community. This would reduce pressure on GPs and on our hospitals and paramedics, saving crucial time and money elsewhere in the NHS.
That’s just for starters. The bottleneck people experience trying to get an appointment is caused in large part by a problem in social care. The shortage of care in our communities means that literally thousands of people are left in hospital who are well enough to go home but too frail to do so without a support package. This interrupts flow throughout our health service. It means there are no beds in hospitals to receive patients coming out of A&E which leads to the record breaking delays in emergency care.
There are solutions for every aspect of this crisis, but the dead hand of ministerial disinterest in the SNP/Green government is only focused on the breakup of our country. If things are to improve, they need to urgently change their priorities.