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Independents' Day

Patient death was 'knock-on effect' from lack of GP resources, says coroner

A coroner has written to the Department of Health expressing concern at GP shortages after ruling that the death of a 26-year-old with a history of mental illness was a 'knock-on effect' from a lack of resources.

Coroner Lisa Hamshi said she was satisfied with the care provided by doctors at Edenfield Road Surgery to Christopher Fairhurst, from Rochdale, but said she was concerned about the strain on practices and the critical shortage of GPs across the country.

Mr Fairhurst died from alcohol poisoning in December last year, after battling depression, and Ms Hamshi recorded a conclusion of misadventure.

But Mr Fairhurst's family said he was often 'twentieth in the queue' when he tried to book a GP appointment.

The inquest heard the practice serves more than 14,000 patients, but has been operating for the past few years with only four or five GPs.

Ms Hamshi told the inquest that she finds it 'deeply saddening there is a lack of psychological resources'.

She added that she plans to send a ‘prevention of future deaths’ form to the Department of Health, which signifies that the risk of another death under similar circumstances is high, and compels the DH to respond to the report within 56 days to say what action it plans to take to reduce the risk.

She said: 'We have heard from a GP how under pressure clinicians are. The retention and training of doctors is a problem.

'There are a number of difficulties faced by the public sector in terms of resources. The knock-on effect is what I see day in and day out with the job I do.’

Dr Joanne Chew, a GP at Edenfield Road Surgery, said pressure began to mount when three GPs left in 2014, with the practice in need of four more to cope with demand.

She warned that dozens of people queued round the block at her surgery in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, because of a 'mad rush' on all 14 phone lines when the practice opened at 8.30am.

She said the practice is 'struggling', with GPs being pulled out of retirement to help.

Dr Chew said: 'If we had enough GPs for face-to-face appointments we wouldn’t have to resort to phone appointments. You can’t rush mental health.'

She added that the practice had decided to improve access by introducing phone consultations but she said 'a lot of us don't agree'.

The inquest heard that Mr Fairhurst had a history of depression and had previously taken an overdose.

Mr Fairhurst's grandfather, Alan Capper, said callers to the surgery were often told they were ‘twentieth in the queue’.

Mr Fairhurst’s family had previously raised concerns about his care, but following the coroner’s conclusion, agreed the NHS simply needs more funding.


Readers' comments (19)

  • I guarantee the local community does nothing to support the practice and only piles more pressure on. Such is the way of the UK public.

    Crying about lack of appointments while simultaneously using appointments for trivial nonsense.

    Complaining when doctors run behind whilst also wanting to spend 30 minutes in their 10 minute appointment.

    Sorry UK you have yourselves to blame. Reap what you sow.

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    Funding is the issue - all parts of NHS in dire straits.

    If you refer this type of patient to mental health services in my area - they are assessed by them and the referral inevitably rejected as not meeting their referral criteria - advise redirect referral to local IAPT services.

    You give the numbers and the patient could wait months before actual therapy begins.

    Even if you give double/triple time to counsel/support, and overrun, what else can you really do without better MH support services?

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  • There will be more and more like this. How immoral that dedicated professionals are held responsible for failures with a massive systemic deficiencis.
    When similar occurrences occur in the civil service often will less systemic influence the tax payer foots the bill and no-one is identified as to blame.

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  • Credit to brave coroner to tell it like it is

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  • this is very sad case. my condolences to family
    When you ring psychiatric team, their mind works very fast to come up with answer why they would not see patient. if they do then there are no beds.
    I totally agree with gp who said we see such trivial problems most of time. it is all free and they keep blurting out lots of unconnected symptoms. it is all FREE so why not. there has to be some accountability from patients.

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  • Many congratulations to the coroner for expressing such a sensitive, forthright and brave response.

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  • They had to install bogs for 40k as every word that leaves their orifices stinks of treason. Time to call a spade a spade.

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  • I do kind of feel the tide is slightly turning with stories like this,- I really hope so... there has always been a strong sense when working in the NHS that no matter how busy and understaffed your surgery/hospital is then any bad outcome is fully your fault, even if you never had a fighting chance. This a the first time I've heard anyone say 'you did what you could with the resources you had' hopefully this will become a more mainstream opinion.... I am on a few doctor and gp forums on Facebook and the like and the overwhelming feeling is that young doctors are in a constant state of terror. Overwhelmed by numbers and knowing that no matter how well you consult and document, if a patient complains or there is a bad outcome they will find an 'expert GP' to criticise you. 'You should have taken more history, documented more examination findings, you didn't make it clear enough they might die if they missed their appt etc.... so you either burn out in a fog of anxiety ( as generally doctors are nice conscientious people not psychopaths ) or you get quite fatalistic about it and think - well I can do everything right and they'll still screw me over in one way or another for even a spurious complaint so fingers crossed is all I can do...

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  • The IAPT service locally (East Midlands) promised short referral response times but rapidly deteriorated into several months
    At least previously we were able to manage our underfunded practice counselor and prioritize.
    Professor Hawkings is quite right the nhs is being allowed to wither
    Perhaps J Hunt could tell us what he knows about black holes as he has apparently declared himself cleverer than Stephen !!??

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