The U.K. Telegraph writes, "Senior doctors last night warned GPs were buckling under the demands of an aging population, and that too often only those who 'shouted the loudest' were able to secure help quickly. Experts said some patients were forced to wait even longer than a week, with delays of up to a month for appointments for some surgeries."
Dr. Helen Stokes-Lampard of the Royal College of GPs has voiced concerns that as a result, some patients will likely be overlooked. "My biggest fear is that those who are most vulnerable and least assertive are getting overlooked. The patients who shout the loudest will get the urgent appointments, but many others are left waiting for far too long," said Stokes-Lampard.
With doctors' patient loads becoming heavy, patients are at risk. GPs admit that they are often forced to rush their consultations, and a recent poll reveals that eight out of 10 fear that they are missing serious illnesses because of their heavy workload.
"When I get to the end of a day and I've had 100 telephone consultations and seen 30 patients face to face," admits Dr. Stokes-Lampard, "I hope and I pray that nothing serious has been missed--either because of the relentless pressure or because someone who needed an appointment couldn't get one."
The government is blaming the extended waits on the Labour Party's past control, stating that doctors received generous pay raises while being freed of responsibility for out-of-hours care. But Labour asserts that the increase in waiting times results from the government's decision to remove a target that promised patients a GP appointment within 48 hours.
The Telegraph reports:
The 48-hour rule was scrapped in June 2010, as part of Coalition efforts to dismantle a "target culture" in the NHS. It was among many waiting targets which had become contentious because of concerns that seriously ill patients were having care delayed because trivial cases had to be seen just as quickly.
Meanwhile, patients are bearing the burden. According to Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, the difficulties in seeing a GP are contributing to a crisis in Accident and Emergency Departments.
Lengthy wait times are just one of many problems characterizing England's healthcare system.
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