HEALTH board officials have been blasted over problems at GP surgeries in Wrexham as patients struggle to get appointments.
Councillors in the county borough say they have been inundated with complaints from residents who are unable to see their doctor.
Concerns have also been raised over people waiting as long as two hours on the phone to get through to their local practice, leading to more patients turning up at Wrexham Maelor Hospital’s emergency department.
The issues have partly been blamed on difficulties recruiting GPs after they were raised at a Wrexham Council meeting held yesterday (Monday, 19 July).
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board acknowledged the situation had become worse at the end of May when the GP partners for three Wrexham surgeries ended their contract.
Representatives said the position at Hillcrest Medical Centre, Forge Road Surgery and Borras Park Surgery should improve though after three new doctors were recruited at the end of last week.
However, Brymbo councillor Paul Rogers slammed the problems faced by patients in his community.
He said: “Our branch surgery has not been open for 18 months – it’s not acceptable.
“As a health board you insisted that the contract holders look at the scheduling to reopen that branch.
“Unfortunately, they then resigned the contract, and you haven’t come up with the goods yourselves.
“Some message needs to go out there to the people of Brymbo that they have a branch surgery and it needs to reopen because there’s a lot of frustration.
“Even travelling to Forge Road was an issue before and now they’re expected to travel to Hillcrest and it’s just not good enough.”
At the height of the issues with the three practices, Southsea councillor Nigel Williams said his phone was ringing “off the hook” with residents complaining about the lack of available appointments.
He also detailed how some patients had been forced to pay a £20 taxi fare to attend routine appointments at the Hillcrest Medical Centre instead.
Officials said another cause of the recent problems had been a surge in demand for appointments following the easing of Covid restrictions.
Rob Smith, Betsi Cadwaladr’s area director for north east Wales, said: “The demand for primary care and the number of appointments required has shot up since we started to unlock from Covid.
“Whether it’s pent up demand for services, there are lots of people who want to see their GP and far more than we’ve seen before.
“That’s not unique to north east Wales, that’s a Wales-wide phenomenon which has been discussed among all the primary care heads.”
Information released by the health board ahead of the safeguarding, communities and wellbeing scrutiny committee meeting shows there are currently an average of 2,521 patients per GP in the Wrexham area.
The figure is significantly higher than the all-Wales average of 1,590 per GP.
The board outlined a number of steps being taken to improve the situation locally, including incentive payments of £20,000 for trainee doctors who stay in the area for at least a year after qualifying.
A new medical school is also set to be opened in North Wales to train more health professionals to work in the region in the long term.
However, some politicians questioned the speed of the changes being made.
Cllr Bill Baldwin said: “We’ve got all these plans and training you’re doing and I’m just wondering, when are things going to get better for the people of Wrexham?
“When are all these plans going to come to fruition and when can we say that people aren’t going to be queuing for services and waiting on the phone for hours to get some sort of answers?”
Meanwhile, Cllr Beverley Parry-Jones accused the board of “over-promising and under-delivering”.
The meeting was told the average wait for phone calls to be answered had been cut in half from an hour to 30 minutes.
The health board said more face-to-face GP appointments had also been made available.
However, a warning was sounded that people would need to become less reliant on doctors, with more appointments being carried out over the phone in future.
Mr Smith said: “We’ve introduced that (phone appointments) during Covid, and we’ve had to do that because of social distancing in practices.
“It is actually something that we need to do more of anyway because of issues around the availability of GPs, so that is a trend within primary care that is likely to continue into the future.
“We need to take people with us in terms of understanding that changes are happening.
“If people are expecting to see their GP face to face all the time, then that will be a cause for frustration.”