Letters: The sick now resort to drastic measures to get treatment through GPs

patient files in a GP surgery
patient files in a GP surgery

SIR – Sarah Gough (Letters, January 23) describes what many see as the major problem with the NHS.

I had symptoms of cancer, so tried to contact my GP. Every time I called, the line was engaged. When I did get through towards the end of each day, all the appointments had gone. This went on for two weeks. Appointments could only be made by phone. Eventually a call to my MP’s office resulted in a call to me from the surgery within a couple of hours, advising of a telephone appointment later that day.

I had to go through the same rigmarole to discover my test results. After a day’s delay the MP’s office again got me a booking; the tests had found an early stage prostate cancer. Since then the NHS has been marvellous – but getting past the gatekeeping system requires much ingenuity.

David Pearson
Haworth, West Yorkshire

SIR – Our GP surgery has a new system called Anima, a website-based triage platform that is now the only way to get a medical appointment. I’m pretty computer literate but struggled to set up the account, and after 24 hours still had no response from the surgery.

Those without computer skills might wither and die without ever seeing a doctor.

David Whiteside
Rotherham, South Yorkshire

SIR – Your article (“GPs have all the wrong priorities – and it’s slowly killing the NHS”, Comment, January 21), while highlighting important challenges facing the health service, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the environment in which general practice is forced to operate.

As a GP, I’m frustrated that I can’t always see my patients when they need to see me. But is this any surprise when the average funding received by your surgery to care for you all year is less than you likely spend on pet insurance?

This has barely changed in the past two decades. Compared with 20 years ago, we now have millions more patients and hundreds more treatments, and in the past year have offered over 400 million appointments with almost 2,000 fewer full-time GPs compared with 2015.

We are constantly being asked to do more with less, but we are past saturation point. What’s worse, we are now hearing of GPs struggling to find employment due to funding limitations on practices and a lack of flexibility by the Government in permitting the spending of existing ring-fenced funds.

The politicisation of GP targets and incentives, which force practices to jump through administrative hoops to get additional money, exacerbates these challenges. We urgently need a sustainable contract to enable us to build the GP workforce and ensure general practice in England receives a fair and proportionate slice of NHS funding.

Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer
Chair, BMA GP Committee in England
London WC1

The need for steel

SIR – I am shocked at the prospect that Britain might not be able to produce primary steel if the two blast furnaces at Port Talbot are closed (Letters, January 22).

It is essential that we retain the ability to manufacture high-quality steel for aerospace, defence, renewable energy generation and other key industries, particularly in these times of global instability. The environmental argument for closing the blast furnaces is specious: high-quality steel will instead need to be imported from coal-based steel manufacturers for several years until green primary steel manufacturing processes become more economical and widely adopted. Exporting emissions does not benefit the planet.

If an industry sector is lost, expertise in the sector is also lost – and is very difficult to rebuild.

John Leng
Christchurch, Dorset

Libraries in schools

SIR – It is dismaying that there is no statutory provision for our schools to have libraries.

School and public libraries formed a very important part of my early life. I recall the joy, before reaching my teenage years, of browsing the shelves of Hong Kong’s public library in the early 1960s and leaving with a book or two. That library, and the local bookshops, were where my lifelong love of reading developed.

A few years later my grammar school library in Scarborough provided me with a window into the wide world of literature and beyond. The town’s public library was also an amazing resource.

At university in Durham in the mid-1970s, I spent many hours in the small but historic library within the Castle walls. It was quiet, warm and comfortable, and the bookshelves contained all the reading matter I needed. It was my sanctuary between lectures and meals.

All schools should have libraries and encourage teachers and librarians not just to furnish course materials, but also, as Jane Shilling says, to provide “intellectual nourishment” (Comment, January 22).

Tim Oldfield
Wye, Kent

Mocking bird

SIR – The obscene language sometimes squawked by an African grey parrot can be problematic; but this is not the only inconvenience caused by the ability of this species to imitate sounds (“Foul-mouthed parrots spread the word to flock”, report, January 23).

As a young man, a friend of mine owned one of these appealing birds, which spent much of its time perched next to a “trim phone”. These phones produced a shrill, warbling tone.

When answering calls intended for my friend, his mother would always shout up the stairs: “John – telephone!”

The parrot soon learnt to imitate perfectly both the phone’s warble and “John – telephone!” It certainly kept my frustrated friend fit, until the advent of the mobile phone some years later made the parrot’s antics redundant. The bird itself was lucky to have survived that long.

Nicholas Young
London W13

SIR – My mother used to tell us about a mynah bird she had adopted following its owner’s demise. Its only pronouncement, in spite of her efforts to teach it something else, was: “Terribly sorry, Sybil.”

I still sometimes worry about what had been going on.

Jane Rasch
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Judgment of the BBC

SIR – I was a governor of the BBC from 2002 (“The BBC cannot avoid major change”, Leading Article, January 23).

Complaints are seen by the BBC as very sensitive matters, threatening the independence of the editors: witness the lengths to which it has gone to keep secret the Balen Report on its bias against Israel. The procedure is arcane, only a minuscule number succeed and corrections are not given the appropriate publicity.

The best way to handle complaints would be to appoint an independent ombudsman from outside the media industry, supported by experts on the topic at issue. Ofcom is heavily staffed by former BBC and media professionals who may be as touchy as their current counterparts at the notion of bias at the BBC. Moreover, Ofcom does not have the in-house expertise to judge on complex issues such as the Middle East. The ombudsman should be a person of distinction with no further career ambitions, and with their own staff, who can afford to be fearless.

The BBC handles the most vital questions in our national life. Its perspective on these issues can only be considered fairly and acceptably by an outsider with a track record of expertise and judgment – not Ofcom.

Baroness Deech KC (Crossbench)
London SW1

Heroics at Arnhem

SIR – May I add a footnote to your fine obituary (January 23) of Lord Saye and Sele, Nat Fiennes? He saved my father’s life. On the advance to relieve the paras at Arnhem in September 1944, my father, Major Tom Bird, was with Nat’s 8th Rifle Brigade when it was ambushed by mortars. Two of my father’s company were hit; he rushed to help them, but was badly wounded.

Nat thought he was probably dead or dying but threw smoke bombs and dashed forward to drag him to safety. He would have died otherwise.

After the war, they lived near each other in Oxfordshire and met often. I never heard them talk of war – only of houses and gardens and cricket.

Nicholas A Bird
London W3

Eton mustelids

SIR – My son was the founder member of the Eton Ferret Society (Letters, January 22). He was invited to tea at Windsor Castle with the Eton Beagles by the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. He remembers enjoying a prawn sandwich.

Gill Cowan
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Unhappy memories of Alice in Wonderland

A wooden sculpture of the Cheshire Cat in the Spa Gardens in Ripon, North Yorkshire
A wooden sculpture of the Cheshire Cat in the Spa Gardens in Ripon, North Yorkshire - Alamy

SIR – I suspect there will be others like me who are grateful to the Queen for admitting that Alice in Wonderland scared her as a child (report, January 20).

It terrified me because it was so illogical. I have never read it to my children or grandchildren for fear of giving them the nightmares that it gave me.

Deirdre Lay
Cranleigh, Surrey

An alternative to Met Office catastrophising

SIR – In view of the Met Office’s catastrophist weather warnings (Leading Article, January 23), it might be helpful to consult the Beaufort Wind Scale. It was first used in the early 19th century and was a reliable guide to estimating wind speed before accurate measurement was possible. There is a helpful definition of features to be observed at sea and on land.

Since the Met Office produces a live UK weather map, it is possible to observe the winds in your area in real time.
Given the definitions supplied by Admiral Beaufort, I could see that, during Storm Isha, the winds in my area varied from a strong breeze to a near gale. In a strong breeze, umbrellas are used with difficulty. In a near gale, inconvenience is felt when walking against the wind.

In Beaufort’s time, however, there was no need to allude to the dangers of flying trampolines.

David Henderson
East Molesey, Surrey

SIR – In September 2018 I went to Hong Kong to be with my daughter, who was expecting her first baby. Her husband was away and she was already two weeks past her due date when Typhoon Mangkhut hit, with wind speeds of 177mph.

This onslaught carried on for 10 long hours, accompanied by biblical rain – a terrifying experience. The wind died down by 9pm, and a few minutes later the sound of chainsaws could be heard, with gangs already out clearing fallen trees. During the storm the lights hardly flickered, and television and internet connections did not cease.

Considerable structural damage occurred in the high-rise office blocks, and we were marooned on Lantau Island as all the road bridges were closed. Schools were then shut for two days and everything went into overdrive to get back to normal.
Thankfully my daughter did not go into labour during the typhoon, and I was mighty pleased she didn’t tell me that the hospital on Lantau didn’t have a maternity unit. We were on the wrong side of a sea inlet in any event. She had a lovely baby boy a few days later and I lost half a stone from worry.

Perhaps it is time for our Met Office to get a grip and stop terrifying the daylights out of us all with its warnings.

Susan Hickmet
North Petherton, Somerset

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