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Difficulties accessing GP practices leaving many older people suffering in pain and living with deteriorating conditions, warns Commissioner

in Resources, Research & Reports

Difficulties accessing GP practices leaving many older people suffering in pain and living with deteriorating conditions, warns Commissioner

A significant number of older people throughout Wales are facing difficulties when trying to access GP practices, leaving many individuals suffering in pain, living with deteriorating conditions and feeling worried and anxious.

That’s the key finding of a new report published today by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Access to GP Practices in Wales: Older People’s Experiences, which is based on evidence shared by over 900 older people living throughout Wales.

The Commissioner’s report reveals that changes to the way that GP services in Wales are accessed, which have accelerated a great deal in recent years, and the changing relationships between patients and their practices often make it difficult for older people to find suitable appointments with an appropriate clinician.

Of particular concern is the fact that these kinds of difficulties have resulted in some individuals withholding information about their health or symptoms with some clinicians, preferring to discuss certain matters only with their own doctor, something that presents a significant risk to people’s health.

Many older people also told the Commissioner that services often do not feel ‘joined-up’ and that communication between services can be poor, which has resulted in cases of patient information going missing, crucial prescriptions being delayed, and people being sent ‘from pillar to post’ when trying to resolve issues.

In addition to these issues, the Commissioner found that around two-thirds of older people who responded to her survey find it difficult make suitable appointments, or face issues when trying to contact or communicate with their GP practice, whether by telephone or online. Other issues highlighted included accessing services and information in a language of choice – a particular barrier for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic older people – and getting to surgeries via public transport.

Discussing the findings of her report, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots CBE, said:

“As we get older, accessing GP and other health services often becomes a more prominent part of our lives and these play a crucial role in supporting many older people to stay healthy, independent and safe.

“Older people often share concerns about the difficulties they experience when accessing GP practices with me and my team at engagement events, as well as through my Advice and Assistance service, and I wanted to examine these issues in more detail to ensure older people are not prevented from accessing a crucial part of the health service.

“The large number of responses to my survey demonstrates that these kinds of issues are affecting the lives of many older people throughout Wales, and I would like to thank everyone who got in touch for making their voices heard and providing so much evidence to support my calls for action.

“My report shows that alongside long-standing issues that will be familiar to us all – such as difficulties making appointments or getting through to practices on the phone – the changing nature of GP services and relationships between patients and their GP practices also appears to be creating barriers for older people in terms of arranging the right kinds of appointments or accessing an appropriate clinician.

“These kinds of difficulties are leaving many individuals suffering in pain, living with deteriorating conditions and feeling worried and anxious, something that is deeply concerning.”

The Commissioner’s report includes a series of recommendations for GP Practices, health boards, Welsh Government and other health bodies and organisations, which set out the action needed to improve older people’s experiences and tackle the barriers that make accessing GP practices more difficult.

This includes action focused on building relationships of trust between patients and their surgeries, removing practical barriers to access and improving communication, as well as ensuring there is sufficient investment to modernise systems and improve wider infrastructure.

The Commissioner added:

“I am acutely aware of the significant pressures being faced by health services, including GP services, and this was also reflected in responses from many older people, who recognised that staff were doing the best they could under difficult circumstances.

“Much of the action I am calling for will deliver improvements at little or no cost, or is focused on ensuring that existing standards and frameworks – such as the Welsh Government’s Access Standards – are being met and that this is reflected in older people’s experiences.

“Delivering the action I am calling for will help to ensure that people can access the health services they need, when they need them, in a way that suits them, which will make a positive difference to the lives of many thousands of older people throughout Wales.

“As Commissioner, I will be monitoring the progress against this action, and will continue to encourage and support health services, GP practices, and other key organisations to reach out to and engage with older people throughout Wales in a meaningful way so that the voices of patients of all ages help to shape policy and practice.

“I also want to empower older people by helping them to better understand what they can expect in terms of access to GP practices and where people can find help and support if they experience issues or barriers, and will be soon be publishing a new guide to provide the information they need, which is being developed with support from older people.”


Read Access to GP Practices: Older People's Experiences

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