AT eight on the dot you dial the doctor's number. Your heart sinks as you hear the familiar message, that you are in a queue and your call will be answered shortly.

For thousands of people across York this is the reality of trying to get an appointment with their GP.

To be fair, this was the reality before the Covid crisis. But the pandemic has put more pressure on primary care services and getting a GP appointment is harder than ever.

That is certainly the experience of hundreds of our readers, who have messaged us about their difficulties in accessing GP services.

While some readers have said they are still receiving a good service from their practice, the vast majority tell of long waits on the telephone and the difficulty of getting an appointment.

A York teacher told us: "I cannot call between eight and 10am obviously due to being in class! The one day I had ppa (planning, preparation and assessment) on the morning, I called bang on 8am and was only hold for 52 minutes and was cut off twice - all to find there were no same-day appointments left and they couldn't help me and I had to call back each morning until I got an appointment. I ended up calling 111 and got a call back from my GP within in the hour because I was in so much pain."

Dr Brian McGregor has been a GP for almost 30 years and besides running the out-of-hours service for York and Selby until March this year he is on the committee of the YORLMC which represents local GPs as well as being the chairperson of the BMA regional council for Yorkshire.

York Press: Dr Brian McGregor - local GPDr Brian McGregor - local GP

He has huge sympathies for patients struggling to get appointments but says GPs have never worked longer or harder - running their practices as well as the vaccine programme.

As lockdown eases, demand for GP appointments has rocketed - on an already over-stretched workforce. "GPs are working harder than ever - and there are fewer of us."

READ MORE: "NHS is closed? Patients give verdicts on GP appointments in York

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Dr McGregor explains that fewer face-to-face appointments are available at the moment because of the Covid crisis.

"GPs are operating under the nationally mandated primary care standard operating procedure that mandates patients must be triaged [have a telephone consultation] before having a face-to-face appointment."

This is in place until June, but Dr McGregor believes it will carry on through winter, and perhaps longer because health secretary Matt Hancock thinks the new system is "more efficient and can deal with demand better".

York Press: Health secretary Matt HancockHealth secretary Matt Hancock

The fact that patients cannot mix in waiting rooms and that GPs have to change PPE and clean their consulting room between patients have all impacted on the number of face-to-face appointments available, said Dr McGregor.

However, half of all cases are still seen face-to-face - compared to 70 per cent before the pandemic.

Dr McGregor stressed it was important anyone with a lump or suspected cancer symptoms should not delay in seeing their GP.

But he said a lot of patients could practice "self care" and seek medical help and advice from other sources first.

He suggested people put their symptoms into the NHS website and follow its advice, visit a pharmacy, call 111 or use the online consultation/symptom checker on practice websites.

He said: "An individual might think their problem is urgent but it may not have that urgency for a health professional talking to them.

"When I was working as an out-of-hours doctor I'd frequently get people saying they had had a sore throat for two hours or ear ache for three hours. The advice is to self-care for two to three days, but because a call comes in, it has to be dealt with.

"The ability to self care must have been there at the start of Covid - we saw a 20 per cent drop in demand for GP appointments in April 2020 - people must have been self caring." Dr McGregor says people should consider all the options available and ask themselves: "Does it really have to be a GP?" He added: "Minor illnesses queries are adding to the difficulties of people who have more serious issues."

Dr McGregor was not able to quantify what number of GP inquires concerned minor ailments as opposed to major ones.

But he painted a bleak future for GP services post pandemic. The combination of overwork, fewer staff and criticism from the public and some quarters of the media is taking its toll on the profession, he said.

"Most GPs are working ten-to-12 hour days minimum, and still volunteering for the vaccine site which is our road map out of here.

"Forty per cent of primary care staff are thinking about leaving or reducing their hours next year."

York Press: GPs are working harder than ever says Dr McGregorGPs are working harder than ever says Dr McGregor

He said GPs were not immune to the criticism levelled at them.

"Some of the less generous comments we hear are: 'GPs do nothing; GPs are lazy and on fat-cat salaries.

"But GPs are working harder than ever and there are fewer of us. In 2015, Jeremy Hunt [then health secretary] said we needed 5,000 more GPs, but we have actually dropped 1,500 GPs. Nobody wants to come into general practice - it is an unpopular medical specialism at the moment with the work load high and hours long."

And he asked this chilling question: "If you think GP services are bad how would you feel if they were not there at all?"

Department of health response:

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “GPs have played an incredible role throughout this pandemic and we are grateful for their tireless work. To manage the increased demands placed on general practices, the government has provided an additional £270 million funding to ensure GPs can continue to support all patients.

“As we build back better from the pandemic, the government is committed to expanding the number of appointments for patients to deliver an extra 50 million appointments a year within the next five years.”

Readers' reactions:

We asked Press readers to share their experiences of getting a GP appointment in York during the pandemic - here are some of their replies:

One patient posted: "I kept trying to get an appointment for severe back pain. No one saw me and they just kept prescribing strong pain killers. I ended up having CES and having to have emergency surgery. Almost ended up paralysed."

John Ruston said: "Just keep ringing every morning had to ring 111 in the end."

Annette Cater of New Earswick: "Thursday emergency GP appointment. GP sent a text - go to minor eye clinic if you want to. No conversation. Friday, tried GP appointment again, had to explain my diagnosed mental health condition to get an appointment time. Telephone call and then face to face appointment. Said it was just a sty but sent to A&E/eye clinic said infected cyst to be treated and operation to follow."

York Press: York patient Annette Cater - with the photo she sent to her GP of her eye infectionYork patient Annette Cater - with the photo she sent to her GP of her eye infection

One reader said: "Online care is rubbish; the clerks are making the medical decisions 100 per cent. NHS is closed."

One reader, Joel Arnold, had sympathy for the overworked GPs and medical staff: "GPs and all healthcare professionals are stretched beyond belief, yes the Covid presentations are subsiding however please look back to the sheer workload they have undertaken through the pandemic. I find it sickening that clapping changes to abuse in such a short time!"

This reader had a better experience too: "I had no problem getting a phone appointment recently an after speaking to a doctor about my ailment, they booked me into see someone at the practice within the hour."

One reader asks: "My dentist has worked throughout this last year, why are GPs working to a different set of rules!"

Ralph Cater of York - "My daughter was recently told to go to Boots minor care clinic when she actually needed specialist treatment of an infected cyst in her eye which was very serious. They are atrocious the standard they have fallen to."

Ann Jeffery of Woodthorpe said: "You are told to ring at 8am and are already number 30 in the queue how can this be. People are not being served in my community and I fear things are being missed."

Leanne Sadler: "I asked to see a doctor as I had symptoms I was worried about following breast cancer a few years ago and was told to ring back next day as they were full and I wasn’t an urgent case. I tried for three days running, only got an appointment when I stood my ground and refused to be ignored. It’s quite stressful and nearly went to A&E."

Marie Myers: "I was really ill last week, sent a messages twice online, eventually went to A&E, had to stay in hospital. Lucky I did go or might not be here now. But I never got call back until I was out of hospital and the message I sent showed just how ill I was."

Andy Owen: "Have to say that my practice in Elvington have been superb. Twice during the pandemic I’ve called for a GP call, had the call within an hour and both times seen by a GP within two hours."

York Press: Some readers have been able to get a GP appointment easilySome readers have been able to get a GP appointment easily

Catharine Boddy: "Our GP in Scarborough is brilliant! They are doing an amazing job so thank you!"

Jennifer Louise: "Just want to say, Tadcaster medical centre have been amazing. They have online consultations where you can request a call back and they will call usually within 24 hours, staff have been great working under such pressure."

Lucy Burnham posted on our Facebook page: "You can get a same day appointment for something urgent. If its not urgent, then yes, you have to wait a little bit. A couple of weeks is the waiting time currently at Haxby. But you know, we are in a pandemic, something has to give somewhere.

"If you have something that isn't urgent but you feel you really need to speak to a doctor there and then about it then fork out to go private.

"Other than that, if it isn't urgent, join the queue and just be glad that you can see a doctor at all unlike people in some other countries who are dying on the streets from not being able to get medical treatment."

A GP speaks:

Ruth Guest is a GP in Scarborough and posted on our Facebook page:

"I have never been worked harder and the vast majority of GPs are the same. We have had to work differently so that every contact is triaged first by phone / online. That is still the directive from NHSE. We have NEVER not seen patients. The latest figures from ONS show that GP appointments in March 2021 are up 15 % on last March and 8% up on March 2019 - way before the pandemic. If this increase is not enough then the solution is not that GPs need to work harder. As for same day appointments - we are NOT an emergency service. That said we see many people face to face same day and even more via telephone or econsult. Every time these stories run we as a profession become more demoralised and more broken. We lose more and more GPs every year. If GPs are so lazy why does no one want to be one?"

GP appointments in York - tell us your story

"Are you struggling to get a GP appointment in York? Please share your story here..."

We asked for your responses - this is what you sent.

Paris Williams

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
York Medical Group had problems well before Covid but Covid has been used as a bandaid for the problems to hide. Covid is their reasoning for everything. The staff are very sensitive to criticism and it depends on who you speak to as everyone gives different answers. I was advised to see 111 for a simple thing, they immediately got me a doctor's call with my usual doctor, yet 30 minutes prior the receptionist had told me there were no appointments. Only having certain sites open is also poor service.

Community contributor

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
I kept trying to get an appointment for severe back pain. No one saw me and they just kept prescribing strong pain killers. I ended up having CES and having to have emergency surgery. Almost ended up paralysed.

Annette Cater

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
Thursday emergency GP appointment. GP sent a text - go to minor eye clinic if you want to. No conversation. Friday, tried GP appointment again, had to explain my diagnosed mental health condition to get an appointment time. Telephone call and then face to face appointment. Said it was just a sty but sent to A&E /eye clinic; said infected cyst to be treated and operation to follow.

Send us a photo, with caption if you wish

York Press: Right eye - doctor had seen this picture on ThursdayRight eye - doctor had seen this picture on Thursday
Right eye - doctor had seen this picture on Thursday

Ann Jeffery

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
Our local practice in Woodthorpe has been closed for a year now. This situation has just been discussed on our local chat group, people just cannot get anywhere with it and what is their excuse now? You are told to ring at 8am and are already number 30 in the queue how can this be. People are not being served in my community and I fear things are being missed.

John Rushton

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
Just keep ringing every morning had to ring 111 in the end.

Community contributor

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
I was born and lived in York until the end of March, I was registered with Priory Medical Group. It has always been a nightmare but much worse the last 5+ years. Ages on hold and sometimes not able to get through, spend days just trying to speak to someone. If and when speak to someone appointments are weeks in advance regardless if something that needs to be seen much sooner. Reception not always helpful and some very rude. I know many people who struggle to speak to reception or get an appointment with Priory Medical Group. I have moved to Selby area, needed the doctors once and much quicker service phones and appointments and reception very helpful!

Community contributor

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
Very much as last story: I've had phone in hand at 7.55am hoping to get through although last time I rang they said I had to use the online system. I am looking after a 90-year-old parent and a 78-year-old husband, so it all falls to me as they would be unable to use that system and I also find what they ask you online doesn't always fit what your want.

NHS patients (copy to telegraph to investigate)

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
Throughout the pandemic we (the patients) have not been able to receive an appointment with a GP. We are told it is due to the pandemic (though it was bad enough getting an appointment pre-pandemic). No face-to-face appointments with a GP at all. Majority of staff including GPs are working from home. Phone the GP at 8am for an appointment - it is engaged, 30 minutes later you are told no appointments are available. Online booking is as bad, there are no appointments. We cannot speak to the same GP even. Online care is rubbish; the clerks are making the medical decisions 100 per cent. NHS is closed.

Community contributor

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
York Medical Group practice: I am a teacher and cannot call between 8 and 10am obviously due to being in class! The one day I had ppa on the morning, I called bang on 8am and was only hold for 52 minutes and was cut off twice - all to find there were no same day appointments left and they couldn't help me and I had to call back each morning til I got an appointment. I ended up calling 111 and got a call back from my gp within in the hour because I was in so much pain.

Joel Arnold

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
GPs and all healthcare professionals are stretched beyond belief, yes the Covid presentations are subsiding however please look back to the sheer workload they have undertaken through the pandemic. I find it sickening that clapping changes to abuse in such a short time!!!

Community contributor

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
I had no problem getting a phone appointment recently an after speaking to a doctor about my ailment, they booked me into see someone at the practice within the hour. I would also like to add that my prescription was sent and processed within 15 minutes, so good job all round. The doctor I saw explained that many patients had ‘stored’ illnesses over lockdown, and now that things are normalising on that front, GPs are dealing with multiple ailments and hence longer appointments with each person they see.

Concerned patient

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
My surgery is York Medical Group and they are a joke! I used to belong to Woodthorpe Practice, always offered a great service, but unfortunately they were taken over by YMG. As other readers have said ring at 8am, number 30 in the queue, finally get through and no appointments left. Rang three weeks ago, the recorded message states 'due to coronavirus some of their surgeries were closed and no non-urgent appointments would be offered for the next week." After one useless video call with a doctor trying to guess why I was in pain, one phone call with another doctor, finally got a face to face. Only one GP available and the waiting room empty when I arrived and again when I left. My dentist has worked throughout this last year, why are GPs working to a different set of rules!

Ralph Cater

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
We are unable to get an appointment with Haxby and Wiggington Healthcare . The latest thing is to send us a text asking to send a picture. My wife and daughter have both found it very difficult to get to see a GP. Understandable, I suppose as they have all had both shots of vaccine and feel they still need to hide away and refuse appointments. My daughter was recently told to go to Boots minor care clinic when she actually needed specialist treatment of an infected cyst in her eye which was very serious. They are atrocious the standard they have fallen to.

Community contributor

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
I rang for an urgent appointment at 9am, was on hold for 25 minutes, spoke to a receptionist, then told someone would ring me back. I got a text at 6pm saying I had an ‘urgent callback book for 9am the next day. Still no contact at noon.

Jason Clark

GP appointments in York - tell us your story
One can not even get through on the phone at times. When one does the only appointments are weeks away. Call takers can be rude and obstructive. Even if and when you get an appointment one attends the surgery, for example a 0930hrs appointment one is not seen until 0950hrs.