'Hidden costs of the pandemic' could be surfacing as pressure mounts on GP services

Pressure is mounting on GP services.
Pressure is mounting on GP services.

'We’re seeing more non-Covid deaths at the time of year now than before' - former Head of Health Analysis at the ONS

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We could be seeing the "hidden costs" of the pandemic, said a leading health commentator, as pressure mounts on GPs services.

“We’re seeing more non-Covid deaths at the time of year now than before,” said Jamie Jenkins, former Head of Health Analysis at the ONS.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid alongside Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid alongside Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England.

“That’s alarming, because we could start now be seeing in the data the hidden costs of the pandemic – are we seeing people dying now, because they haven’t come forward over the last year?”

A lack of forward planning has led to mounting pressure on GP services, Mr Jenkins said.

Concerns have been raised over GP access, particularly face-to-face appointments for the elderly or people who have struggled with the “digital first” strategy adopted by many surgeries during the pandemic.

One health expert said that even before the coronavirus crisis, the four nations of the UK had some of the lowest numbers of GPs per population across Europe.

While it takes a number of years for new doctors to train, the population statistics have been available for a number of years, which could easily predict a rise in demand for care, said Jamie Jenkins, former head of health analysis at the Office for National Statistics.

The UK has one of the lowest numbers of GPs per 1,000 people across Europe

Source: Jamie Jenkins

The UK has “one of the lowest numbers of GPs per 1,000 people across Europe”, he said.

Meanwhile, a lot of people had steered clear of seeking help during the pandemic, which has created a backlog.

“It is kind of a perfect storm that we’ve got in the data at the moment,” Mr Jenkins said.

“What we started to see is that fewer people have been coming forward the last year, there’s a huge demand on the health service at the moment, in particular for GPs.”

Asked about how long it takes for doctors to train, Mr Jenkins added: “Well, it takes, you know, numbers of years… you can’t just import doctors as well, it’s not very easy to do that.

“We have an ageing population across most of the developed world and we’re starting to see the impact of this.

“This is probably just some forward planning that’s gone wrong in the NHS, because we’ve known population statistics, we know what the kind of the demand is going to be – why we have not been planning for this for a long time is anybody’s question.”

Sal Brinton says 'both surgeries and residents are now being let down by a Government that is failing to grapple with rising waiting times and a backlog of people waiting for treatment.'
Sal Brinton says 'both surgeries and residents are now being let down by a Government that is failing to grapple with rising waiting times and a backlog of people waiting for treatment.'

Mr Jenkins said recent death statistics have shown that deaths have been higher than average for this time of year.

The comments came as the Liberal Democrats released data on the proportion of face-to-face appointments pre and post-pandemic.

After analysing data from the House of Commons Library, the party said that before the pandemic an estimated 80% of GP appointments were face to face.

Now no local health area meets that level. In some areas only 45% of appointments are face to face.

Liberal Democrat health and social care spokesperson, Sal Brinton, said: “GPs have truly gone above and beyond throughout this pandemic, working tirelessly to make sure everyone could contact their GP even when face-to-face appointments couldn’t go ahead.

“Both surgeries and residents are now being let down by a Government that is failing to grapple with rising waiting times and a backlog of people waiting for treatment.

“With data showing GPs under enormous pressure and residents across the country left deserving better, the Government must get a handle on waiting times.”