SOME of the users of a medical centre in the Vale of Glamorgan are concerned that their service could be coming under significant strain after it started taking on patients from a closed GP surgery.
When the news came out that Dinas Powys Medical Centre on Murch Road would be taking on some of the patients registered at Albert Road Surgery in Penarth, which was due to close in March, residents feared that their service would become overstretched.
Some responded to the news on social media in January, raising their concerns that appointments could become like ‘gold dust’ or that securing one could become a lottery. One service user, who did not want to be named, said he thinks the situation is as feared.
“Trying to get through is a nightmare,” he said. “The last time I tried [to get an appointment] earlier in the week, I must have called 40 to 50 times before I was actually able to get into the [queue] to be answered.
“[During] the times you can phone between 8.30am and 2pm you [often] just can’t get through. They are constantly engaged because there are so many people calling. It is stressful. You feel like you are in for a battle even before you [phone].”
Vale of Glamorgan Council member for Dinas Powys, Cllr Chris Franks, said:
“Locally, the view is that it is very difficult for people to get an appointment and it has been for quite some time and now with the additional [patients] there is every fear that it is going to become even more difficult.
“Yes there have been, we understand, some extra [staff], but there has also been a loss of [staff], so there is great concern about the decline in provision for primary care, not only in Dinas Powys, but beyond.”
In January, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board wrote to Senedd Member Rhys ab Owen to say that the Dinas Powys Medical Centre confirmed that they were able to take on 1,169 patients from Albert Road Surgery.
“I think most people recognise that it is a lack of resources,” added Cllr Franks. “It is not that the doctors and [surgery staff] don’t want to provide a better service, it is just a lack of resources and that is really down to the health board and to the Welsh Government.
“When I [was] in the medical centre, the phone [was] ringing off the hook. If someone is waiting [as the 20th] in a row for an answer, that means that the receptionist is going to have to speak to  people before they get to you. It is just non stop.
“I do know that the moment the receptionists put the phone down, they pick it up again to answer the next call. There is not a gap in between calls. It is relentless.”
A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, said:
“The Health Board is working closely with practices in the area to provide support as part of a managed dispersal of patients following the closure of Albert Road Surgery, allowing arrangements to be put in place to accommodate additional demand.
“This included changes to premises and capacity, additional staffing as well as support for additional phone lines to enhance patient access. Access to primary care services is in high demand and we would encourage the public to use the appropriate service for their needs, which may be a community pharmacy for minor illnesses and advice – more information about choosing the right point of contact can be found on our Primary Choice webpage.
“People can also seek health advice on the NHS Wales 111 website. To reduce unnecessary pressure on services we would also like to remind people of the importance of timeliness when placing repeat prescriptions. At this time, services are adjusting to deal with the increased number of patients so we would ask people to please be kind and considerate to staff.
“We apologise for any disruption caused and thank primary care colleagues and the public for their ongoing cooperation and support.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson added:
“Through the new Access Commitment, GP practices are required to ensure patients can have their needs dealt with at the first point of contact – whether that means they have an appointment for that day, for a date in the future or they are signposted to another appropriate service. Crucially, this will be done without the need for patients to repeatedly call back. We are also providing an extra £4m a year for the next three years to support GP practices in recruiting and retaining staff.
“Since April we have allowed pharmacists to prescribe and supply medicines for an extended range of conditions, to take pressure off GP and other NHS services. Pharmacists can now provide treatment for common minor ailments, access to repeat medicines in an emergency, annual flu vaccinations, and emergency and some forms of regular contraception, free at the point of need.
“We have also worked to increase training places for GPs over recent years, provided financial incentives to attract GP trainees to specialist training schemes and are committed to retaining our existing workforce.”
Dinas Powys Medical Centre was approached for a comment.