Worried residents living close to a GP surgery in Bulwell have said they are "shocked" following a BBC Panorama investigation which made some troubling claims against Britain's biggest GP network. The US-owned Operose Health, which provides GP services to the NHS, has 70 surgeries including five in Nottinghamshire, and more than half a million registered patients.
Panorama reporter Jacqui Wakefield went undercover for the programme, which aired on June 13 at 8pm, and claims the investigation revealed not only a shortage of GPs but also some less qualified medical staff working without adequate supervision and a backlog of patient paperwork. During the programme, a reporter spent time working as a receptionist at one of the Operose Health's 51 London surgery.
While the BBC does not name the practice or the staff, one of the GPs said they were eight doctors short and the practice manager said they hired less qualified medical staff called physician associates (PAs), because they were "cheaper" than GPs. One of Operose Health's five Nottinghamshire surgeries is The Practice St Albans and Nirmala.
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Residents living nearby the practice have shared their shock after hearing about the new revelations. Sharon Billing, 58, said: "Well I haven't seen the documentary but that's quite shocking, yes. For there to be a whole documentary on it then some things, or a lot of things, have gone wrong clearly.
"I think to be fair there are lots and lots of people that need to see a doctor - I had to wait for months and months because of the coronavirus. So who knows how difficult it is to get all these people seen when they've had to deal with Covid and all that.
"Obviously they've had to take matters into their own hands and it shouldn't be that way. This is all an after effect of the coronavirus - it's obvious that's what is happening but I don't really want to waste my breath on that anymore."
Lee Strethem, 37, said: "I don't know anything about that but I know that there's been a backlog at loads of GPs that's as long as my arm. It's absolutely ridiculous how long it takes to see a doctor and if I've got something that could potentially be serious I probably still won't get seen for months and months.
"It's a joke really. Definitely something needs to be done whether that's adding more surgeries to the area or what but something needs to be done because no one's being helped at the moment."
The BBC reports said that Physician Associates, who were first introduced by the NHS in 2003 to enable doctors to deal with more complex patient needs, but should still have the oversight of a doctor, were being given jobs which were normally the responsibility of GPs. Physician Associates or "PAs" are healthcare professionals who have completed two years of post-graduate studies on top of a science degree. A GP by contrast must have 10 years of education and training.
An Operose Health spokesperson said: "We want our patients to be reassured about the care they receive at their local practice. We are taking a lot of action to recruit and retain GPs in the face of the biggest national shortage of GPs in the history of the NHS.
"We are the largest employer of salaried GPs in the country. In the past year, we have recruited a new GP at the rate of one almost every nine days to support our practices.
"We have recruited 38 additional GPs in the last 12 months, and we have a further 14 GP candidates currently going through our recruitment process. We recently completed a benchmarking process to make sure we offer all our GPs a competitive salary as well as sector-leading benefits.
"Over the past year, we have invested over £5m in additional operating spend to reward and support our staff. This includes increases in pay for GPs, physician associates, pharmacists, and practice managers following a national benchmarking exercise.
"Our use of GP-led teams, including physician associates, to provide appropriate care to patients reflects an overall shift the government and professional bodies have made in general practice and is in line with the NHS Long-Term Plan.
"We have a clear process of supervision covered by our Clinical Supervision Policy for nurses and AHCPs (Allied Health Care Professionals, which includes physician associates). This has been extensively reviewed by senior clinicians and the CQC and remains included in all staff inductions.
"The CQC rates 97% of our practices as either Good or Outstanding, despite the pressures the NHS has been under in the past two years."