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The queue at a Cardiff doctors surgery that highlights the problems patients in Wales face

Wales Online logo Wales Online 14/01/2020 Thomas Deacon

It is Tuesday morning in Cardiff. As the sun struggles to make itself seen through the cloudy skies, several people are already queueing up outside the Clare Road Medical Centre in Grangetown waiting to get an appointment.

It is a scene that is repeated outside GP surgeries across Wales as practice administrators struggle to find fair ways of allocating the spaces that are available to patients.

At the Clare Road Medical centre, as at many, the phone lines open at the same time as the doors at 8am but many patients say they find that the only reliable way of getting an appointment that day is to join the queue.

They say that on some occasions up to 40, sometimes sickly, people have been waiting outside in the cold before the doors open at 8am.

Once inside they said they are given a numbered ticket where they have to wait again to be seen or come back for an appointment later in the day.

One woman waiting outside on Tuesday said: "I don't think it's particularly pleasant.

"I think with the pressure they are under they are doing the best they can. I have seen 40 people waiting here at one time."

At around 7.30am on Tuesday, nine people were queueing outside with 18 waiting shortly before 8am.

Another woman at the front of the queue said she arrived at 7.03am. The woman, who did not want to be named, said: "If you don't come on time you won't get an appointment.

"What can you do? Unless you can think of a better system.

"I've been coming for years, it's normal routine. A number of patients said the situation is similar at other surgeries across Cardiff and that the queues are part of a wider issue."

One patient at the surgery has previously described a young woman collapsing on the floor of the surgery after waiting half an hour in the cold outside for an appointment.

She said: "The set up of this surgery is truly detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the community.  The practice manager has been contacted multiple times about this dire queuing system but nothing has been done."

a group of people on a sidewalk: People queueing outside the medical centre before it opens at 8am © Richard Swingler People queueing outside the medical centre before it opens at 8am

As GP surgeries struggle with more patients and an ever-present fight for resources with other parts of the health service, the issue of how to find a fair way to ensure people can get a timely appointment with a GP is a challenge across the nation.

In a 2018 report, the Royal College of GPs said that "a shortage of GPs, rising patient demand and continued under-investment in general practice had resulted in significant pressures on primary care".

At the time, the body said that nearly a third of GPs said that they felt so stressed they could not cope at least once a week and more than two thirds said they expected it to get worse in the coming years.

The body said that the amount of money spent on primary care was falling as a proportion of total health spending and that in Wales, general practice spending lagged behind the other nations of the UK.

It called for increasing GP training places and investing in facilities and out of hours services.

A report in October 2019 by the Auditor General for Wales found that the number of GPs was also falling, down by 42 from 2014 to 2018 and that the number of practices was also falling as surgeries closed or merged.

It said: "In many areas of Wales, people are experiencing difficulties getting an appointment with a GP."

On the website of the Clare Road practice, the medical centre says it offers a range of appointments include advance appointments up to four to six weeks. They also offer house visits and same day appointments from 8am.

It states: "Please note same day appointments are only available in the mornings and are not available to book online. To book an appointment with a doctor can be made by telephoning the surgery or by calling in person from 8am."

According to the experts there are a number of issues facing general practice surgeries in Wales.

Many are struggling to fill vacancies, with the latest figures from the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), more than a third (34%) of their members said their practice had at least one GP vacancy which had been open for more than three months.

Closures have also affected patients, with 40,000 in Wales in the last five years having to find a new GP due to surgery closures.

The Clare Road Medical Centre has been asked to comment.

Joint chair of RCGP Wales Dr Peter Saul said: “GPs want patients to be seen in a timely fashion, but there are instances across Wales where patients have difficulty in booking appointments in a way which is convenient to them.

"There will be occasions when the best person for the patient to see is not the GP, but another member of the practice team.

"The reality is that this will require investment in new technology and sufficient resourcing of general practice.

"We should also not think simply in terms of access to appointments but also in terms of the time spent with the patient providing quality care

"That is why RCGP has called for sufficient resources to offer 15-minute appointments as standard.”

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