More than 1,000 patients in the Herts Valleys CCG area avoided GP over fears for the NHS
Herts Valleys CCG covers Dacorum, Hertsmere, St Albans and Harpenden, and Watford and Three Rivers
More than a fifth of patients in the Herts Valleys CCG area avoided making a GP appointment in the past year over fears of being a burden on the NHS according to a survey.
The King's Fund think tank said this pent-up demand for help across England will soon force the health care system to deal with a "capacity crunch".
Between January and March, 6,910 patients in the NHS Herts Valley CCG area who had needed GP appointments over the last 12 months were asked if they had avoided booking them, and the reasons why.
Of these patients, 1,460 (21 per cent) said they put off seeing their GP because they did not want to place a burden on the NHS – the most common reason given.
Meanwhile, 18 per cent said they did not make an appointment as they were worried about the risk of catching Covid-19, and 9 per cent because it was too difficult.
Of patients who needed appointments, 41 per cent said they avoided making one for any reason – in line with the average across England.
The figures come from the 2021 GP Patient Survey, which provides an overview of patients’ experiences with primary care services .
A spokesperson for Herts Valleys CCG said: “While we understand that this has been a difficult year for our patients we are delighted that 86 per cent of those using GP services said they had good experience.
"We know that in the very early stages of the pandemic people held off on seeing their GP for various reasons but we have consistently encouraged patients to seek help if they need it and the survey results show an increase in patients contacting their GP over the last six months.
"This is certainly reflected in the volume of people contacting currently GP practices which are busier than they ever have been – and many of our GPs and practice staff are still involved in the vaccine roll out.
"The positive feedback we’ve had in this survey is a real reflection of the care and commitment shown by our GPs and all of the nursing, health and other staff working in practices who have worked tirelessly to care for patients and keep them safe in these unprecedented and challenging times.
"Of those responding to the survey, 90 per cent said receptionists where helpful and that healthcare professionals treated them with care and concern, 97 per cent had trust and confidence in the healthcare professional they spoke to and 94 per cent said they were suitably involved in decisions about their care or treatment.
"We’d like to thank all patients who took part in this year’s GP survey.
"We will study the feedback closely to see how we can continue to improve services going forward but more than anything else we welcome these results as well deserved recognition for our hard-working primary care workforce.”
The Royal College of GPs said many patients, particularly at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, did not seek medical attention when they were unwell.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "GP services have been available throughout the pandemic, and GPs and our teams are now making record numbers of patient consultations alongside delivering the vast majority of the vaccination programme.
"Nevertheless, we continue to urge patients, if they are unwell or have symptoms that could be signs of serious illness such as cancer, to seek medical assistance."
He added that GP teams are working under "intense workload and workforce pressures" and called on the Government to recruit more staff to address the problem.
Beccy Baird, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said: "As this pent-up demand starts to come back into the system many GPs, and other parts of the health and care system, are facing a capacity crunch.
"The Government and NHS leaders need to consider how general practice will be supported to work with other NHS and care services to make sure that people continue to be able to access the care they need.”
Despite hundreds of thousands of patients across England avoiding seeing their doctor, there was a slight rise in patient satisfaction with GP services in general.
Around 83% said they had a good overall experience of their local practice, compared to 82% the previous year.
Ms Baird said although reassuring, the results are not spread evenly, with people in deprived areas more likely to report negative experiences.
In Herts Valley, 86% of patients described their experience as good – one of the highest rates in the country.
The Department of Health and Social Care said GP practices continue to provide care at the forefront of the pandemic response, alongside the vaccine rollout.
A spokeswoman added: "We need to learn to live with this virus and we are supporting practices in expanding capacity, by making £270 million available so they can continue to provide support for those in need.”