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GPs battle the blizzards to see patients in the snow

By Gareth Iacobucci

Indefatigable GPs in one the UK's hardest snow-hit regions are linking up with a special 4x4 response service to keep up with home visits to patients.

Newcastle-based Northern Doctors has formed a partnership with 4x4 Response Team North East - a group of volunteer 4x4 enthusiasts - to ensure that GPs can get out to patients' homes wherever they are.

Practices in Northumberland also have a standing arrangement to call on the Northumberland National Park mountain rescue team to help them visit patients living in outlying areas beyond the reach of gritters and snow ploughs.

Dr Peter Hunt, a partner at the Rothbury Practice in Morpeth, Northumberland said: 'It's certainly difficult to get around but all the surgeries have remained open. Our community nurses are going out with the National Parks escort.

'The snow is about two foot deep here and that's without drifting. Every day about two more inches of snow is falling. I'm having to walk about 400 yards through the snow on some visits even just locally, but surgeries have been pretty quiet, so we have more time for the visits.

'I've got a shift coming up with the out-of-hours service this weekend, so we'll see how that goes.'

A spokesperson for Northern Doctors said they had answered 86 calls in 24 hours last Saturday - significantly up on normal call-out levels.

Meanwhile in Scotland, where GPs are coping with some of the UK's lowest temperatures, the MDDUS is urging GPs to use their common sense to avoid becoming snowbound or having an accident while travelling.

Dr Jim Rodger, head of professional services at MDDUS said: 'A number of GPs have been calling us for advice about their obligations to visit patients as they face heavy snow falls, and persistent difficulties in driving due to the extreme conditions.

'It is essentially the application of common sense rather than any legal or service requirements. Patients who request house calls should be asked what the conditions of the roads are like in their immediate area.

'It would be wrong for doctors or nurses to set off in adverse conditions then become stuck in snow or have an accident, and thereby render themselves ‘out of action'. It is much more sensible to remain in the surgery and encourage patients to attend the surgery.

'We have had reports from GPs in badly affected parts of the country who have heroically trudged through the snow for an hour in order to see patients.

'It is vital for doctors to ensure they gather as much information as possible about the patient's previous medical condition and their present difficulties to allow them to decide what is in the patient's best interests.'

Dr Simon Williams