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.