GP surgery cancels pre-booked appointments due to Omicron staff shortages

By Estel Farell Roig

A GP surgery in South Gloucestershire has cancelled pre-booked appointments due to "peak" staff absences caused by Omicron.

The news comes after several trusts across the country have declared critical incidents since 2022 began - including the two in Bristol - amid mounting staff absences caused by covid.

The two trusts in the city declared the critical incidents across the New Year bank holiday weekend to open up extra beds and ward space, as well as requesting additional staff.

READ MORE: Avon and Somerset Police say staff absence 'thankfully low' despite covid pressure

And now a GP practice in Hanham has written to patients to say it would not be able to offer patient bookable slots "for the foreseeable future".

Executive partner Dr Paul Taylor said the surgery was having to prioritise those with the most pressing needs due to the staff shortages, adding that they are "frustrated and saddened" by this situation.

He wrote: "In my 30 years in the practice, I have not experienced such a sustained period where demand exceeds our capacity.

"The current situation of staff shortages and last minute absences makes it impossible for us to offer a ‘normal’ service.

"Already overstretched reception and admin staff are spending hours ringing patients to cancel pre-booked appointments."

Dr Taylor said that, like every practice across the country, they are severely short staffed across the spectrum of clinical and non-clinical staff.

He added that the current situation, where absences are at a peak due to the Omicron variant, has come at a time of increased winter pressures and pent up routine demand due to the ongoing pandemic.

"We are all exhausted," Dr Taylor said. "You are understandably frustrated. We are getting used to shortages of teachers, delivery drivers, and train staff amongst others, causing everyday difficulties.

"The NHS, including General Practice, is experiencing the same problems but with a relentless increase of demand. We are overstretched and we are having to make difficult decisions."

Dr Taylor said that, for the foreseeable future, the surgery would be implementing a book on day system for all non-nursing/ healthcare assistant appointments.

He added there would be some ability for clinicians to book follow up appointments, but that they are not able to offer any patient bookable advance slots.

Dr Taylor said the situation is worsening, but that they are doing their absolute best to meet the demand with limited resources.

He continued: "In addition, staff have worked extra hours to deliver the Covid vaccination programme. Many worked most weekends, as well as extra weekday shifts, in December to meet the government target to offer boosters to all adults before 31/12/21.

"We did this, but I am sorry to say that this week we had 784 un-booked booster appointments. Many of these were offered due to staff working extra but also cancelling booked clinics.

"I urge you to book a vaccine/ booster if you are yet to have one."

Dr Taylor said the surgery would continue to review the situation regularly and return to a more settled service as soon as possible, adding the surgery would continue to see patients face to face where appropriate.

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