A YORK GP has warned that healthcare staff are “exhausted” and "looking for a way out" amid a sharp spike in GP appointments.

Doctors carried out 167,312 appointments with patients at surgeries in the NHS Vale of York CCG area in March – 30,525 more than in February. That was also 28,482 more than during the same month last year, at the start of the pandemic.

The CCG said we can all "play our part" in reducing pressure on services but added that patients should not delay seeking help with worrying symptoms.

"While under pressure, your local GP practice is there if you need it," Shaun Macey, acting assistant director of primary care at the CCG, said.

"Practices are dealing with a backlog of demand from patients who were reluctant to contact their practice during lockdown, those waiting for delayed hospital appointments and treatment, as well as routine health checks where practice capacity has been constrained due to social distancing and infection prevention and control measures. 

"Many practices have found that their capacity has been affected by staff becoming sick with COVID-19 and having to self-isolate. Front-line health and care staff were, and continue to be, at significantly higher risk of contracting the virus."

Dr David Fair of Jorvik Medical Practice said demand is the highest it has ever been in his 30 years as a GP.

He told The Press: “It’s extremely busy. It’s the busiest I’ve ever known it in 30 years I’ve been working as a GP. 

“Medical care was always on the increase even before coronavirus came along. It’s just picking up the curve where it left off previously.

"I think a lot of GPs are exhausted. A lot of them are looking for a way out in terms of retirement or change of career. That applies across the whole health service.

“The work force is more stretched as well - a lot of international doctors have left to go back to their home countries.

“We’re having to spend a lot more time training younger GPs and medical students. I don’t think anyone foresees it getting better within the next few years, until the new cohort of medical students come through, but that’s 10 years off.”

And as staff deal with “angry and agressive” patients, Dr Fair is urging people to be kind.

He added: “We’d be incredibly grateful if patients could be kind and understanding to our staff who are all doing their best and have no desire to make patient’s lives more difficult.”

It is a picture seen across the nation with doctors groups warning that GPs could buckle under the pressure of “unsustainable” workloads as they juggle appointments with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

NHS Digital data on the country as a whole shows around 1.2 million of bookings in March were related to Covid-19 vaccinations.

“These figures confirm what GPs have been trying to communicate to the public for the last year, that practices never closed and we are in fact busier than ever,” said Dr Ellen Welch, of the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK).

Despite this, she added, the group was still hearing reports that patients are finding it harder than ever to access care.

DAUK recently wrote a letter to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding an urgent review into demand at GP practices, after it saw workloads “going through the roof”.

“We are yet to receive a reply to our letter to the Government about this,” Dr Welch added.

“But DAUK remains concerned that practices are working beyond capacity, leading to burnout and problems with staff retention, which ultimately impacts on patient care.”

A recent survey by patients’ group Healthwatch England, which drew on patients’ experiences up to December, found many people were struggling to access care from their GP. It also raised concerns that the rise in remote appointments during the pandemic was not meeting everyone’s needs.

“Every day, more than a million patients in England had an appointment with their practices, whether this was the significant proportion seen face-to-face, on the phone, or, for a smaller number, via video call,” said Dr Richard Vautrey, GP committee chair at the British Medical Association.

Mr Macey added: "There has been an increase in demand for GP appointments as COVID restrictions have been relaxed, and practices across the Vale of York are extremely busy. However, they are coping with the increased demand from patients while continuing to successfully deliver the ​COVID vaccination programme.

"We can all play our part in reducing pressure on services by ensuring we make the right choices about our care. We continue to encourage people to use 111 first for urgent care so that they can be directed to the best local service for them, and 999 or hospital accident and emergency departments only for medical emergencies such as life-threatening illness or injuries.

"Your practice's website will also provide information about how you can manage minor illness/conditions yourself, together with an online form though which you can contact your practice for advice and guidance about a range of minor ailments.

"Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals who can provide confidential, expert advice and treatment for a range of common illnesses, such as headaches, fevers, upset stomachs and minor rashes. Many pharmacies are open on evenings and on bank holidays​, and your GP practice may refer you to a pharmacy for advice or treatment if they feel that your needs can be safely met though this service."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said GPs have played a vital role in the response to Covid-19, caring for vulnerable patients while administering a large proportion of vaccinations.

She added: “To help expand GP capacity, we have made available an additional £270 million of extra funding until September to ensure GPs are able to continue to support all patients.”

An NHS spokeswoman said there are now almost 440 more GPs than last year across England.