Patients are being forced to wait hours in GP surgeries for ambulances, putting healthcare staff under increasing pressure, GP leaders have said.
The British Medical Association (BMA) warned things will “get worse rather than better” after NHS data showed patients were left waiting for hours at a time for an ambulance.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA’s general practitioners committee, said people have been left stuck in GP waiting rooms for paramedics, forcing staff to carry out treatment and increasing waiting times for other patients.
He told the PA news agency: “It leads the practices to manage said patients without the necessary equipment and expertise to do so.
“Some patients choose to go to their GP practice rather than call 999 and when the GP realises the situation, they take action and need ambulance staff to get there. Every second counts.
“There have been examples where practices have been giving oxygen to people while they wait for paramedics and have run out and have had to find further sources of oxygen.”
Dr Vautrey added that the length of ambulance waiting times can be put down to “a historic lack of investment in the NHS” and the Government has been warned things will get worse if they do not bring forward support for GP practices.
He said: “At the start of the pandemic there were insufficient staff (numbers) and we haven’t got that headroom to be able to manage the rise in need we are seeing at the moment and that’s why we’re under huge pressure.
“We have seen a real increase in demand for healthcare services.
“People are still catching Covid-19, 100 people or more a day are still dying and we are seeing other respiratory diseases and a huge number of people that have delayed going to services, with the best of intentions, during the pandemic, with health problems that need attention, and that means there are more patients to manage.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “If a member of staff at a GP surgery calls an ambulance, it’s because a patient needs emergency treatment or care that can’t be delivered at the surgery, and as such it’s vital that these calls aren’t deprioritised.
“Whilst GP surgeries are clinical settings staffed by highly trained clinicians, practices may not be equipped with all of the equipment, or appropriate medications needed, in an emergency situation.
“We understand the considerable pressure our colleagues working for the ambulance service are under, pressure that is matched right across the NHS including in general practice, but when people need emergency treatment, it’s vital they receive it in the safest and most appropriate setting to increase chances of the best possible outcome.”
Paramedic and spokesman for the College of Paramedics, Richard Webber, said the waiting times patients are experiencing are unacceptable and he added: “We have members who have been working for 20, 30 years and they have never before experienced anything like this at this time of the year.
“Everyday services are holding hundreds of 999 calls with no-one to send.
“The ambulance service is simply not providing the levels of service they should – patients are waiting too long and that is putting them at risk.”