Thursday, 14 October 2021

GPs and Dentistry in Cornwall

As we emerge from the pandemic and life gets back to normal, there are pressures on multiple fronts to contend with.  The lockdown restrictions around the world have caused significant turbulence in global supply chains from shipping to energy.  Our NHS was on the front line of dealing with the pandemic, however, as that threat recedes, other work that was necessarily affected during the Covid response has returned to the fore.  In addition, months of isolation and staying at home during the pandemic has placed burdens on families and relationships and we are seeing a significant increase in people suffering from anxiety and other mental well-being problems.

As a result, many GP surgeries are struggling to cope with the increase in demand.  Most GP surgeries in the Camborne and Redruth area are reporting an increase in demand for appointments of around 30 percent and, in order to manage, they are having to triage calls so that those who definitely need a face to face appointment can receive one, while others with a query about medication or where a nurse could book tests are being dealt with differently.  Face-to-face appointments are crucial in medicine for many conditions.  For instance, a doctor can only really detect a condition like appendicitis if they are able to physically examine a patient.  That is why the government was so clear that face to face appointments needed to be reinstated as quickly as possible.  However, as doctors surgeries try to get back on an even keel given a big uplift in demand, we also need to work with them to manage this spike in demand.

Another longstanding issue relates to access to NHS dentists.  Ironically, we have a dental school in Truro and train many dentists every year but getting them stay in Cornwall is proving more difficult. Waiting lists for dental treatment are not uncommon in Cornwall. Prior to the Pandemic, 52% of adults in Devon and Cornwall recorded as not seeing an NHS dentist in the previous two years. This means that when patients do visit their dentists, it is often for more complex treatments that take longer to solve. 

Some dentists have pointed to changes made to contracts under the last Labour government that make it less attractive to work in some areas where need is greatest and this needs to be looked at.  It is also the case that recruiting GPs to work in parts of Cornwall has also been a challenge.  In part this is because the traditional route into General Practice, where a qualified GP becomes a partner in a local practice is less attractive to many today.  Doctors often want more flexibility and less commitment to one area or to a single job.  A portfolio career where they have two or more part time jobs suits many better and we need to recognise these social changes and reconsider the way the model operates.

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