WHILE there is an overall good patient experience when it comes to visiting a GP surgery, waiting times to see a doctor is among the most common reason for dissatisfaction with the NHS.

Calls have been made for urgent, long-term investment in primary care services in Bury — those which are the first point of contact for residents needing to access healthcare, such as GPs, community pharmacies, dental, and eye health services.

MP for Bury North, James Frith, has conducted a survey of hundreds of people living across Bury, Tottington and Ramsbottom which reveals major challenges in accessing primary care in Bury and the knock-on effects on emergency services.

He has pledged to raise the issue in Parliament and call for urgent, long-term investment in NHS primary care services in Bury.

Mr Frith said: “These results show that we have real difficulties here in Bury with access to GP services. This isn’t confined to our town, we are facing a national crisis.

“The Tory government must take responsibility for a decade of austerity during which we have lost 1,600 GPs while we’ve seen cuts to social care and other health services which have increased demand for their services. Carrying on the way the government is, we could face a shortage of 7,000 GPs in the next five years because of problems with training and retention.

“I’ll be using these real-life experiences shared by hundreds of people to make the case in parliament for urgent, long-term investment in NHS primary care services in Bury. And continuing my commitment to protect walk-in services in our town.”

His survey found that one third of residents in Bury find it difficult to make an urgent appointment with their GP, accounting for 36 per cent of respondents. That figure jumped to 49 per cent of people who found it difficult to make an appointment when it was non-urgent.

Walmersley resident Linda Cohen, who took part in the survey, said she had found it a challenge to book both types of consultation, as well as experiencing long waiting times to see her doctor.

The 66-year-old IV therapy nurse said: “I phoned my GP last week because I was experiencing dizziness and had a bad head. I wanted to have it checked out. I was told the next available appointment was November 5 — more than one week later. I could not wait until then so I phoned 111. They called me back and advised I phone my GP. When I called the next morning, I was given an appointment within one hour. It is a farce just to get an appointment.”

The latest Bury data found that 15 per cent of those who said they were unable to get a suitable appointment with their GP went to A&E instead, while 10 per cent visited a local pharmacy.

A huge 60 per cent said they ended up in a walk-in centre. However, only 50 people said they had used the NHS 111 service.

Mrs Cohen continued: “Even if you are really really ill you have to go through the same process to get an emergency appointment. They always tell you to check appointments online but there are never any so you end up ringing anyway.

“I don’t have trouble getting through to the surgery but I have had to wait for an appointment for three weeks before, and you are talking one month if you need to get results.”

The survey found that more than 20 per cent of people are waiting more than one week for an urgent appointment, and 14 per cent are waiting more than two weeks.

Meanwhile, just under half of people are waiting more than two weeks for a non-urgent appointment.

At national level, recent figures show that patients had to wait a month before seeing their doctor in 15 million cases in the 12 months to August 2019.

The CQC’s State of Care report found that a total of 55 million GP visits taking longer than a fortnight from booking an appointment.

Mrs Cohen is one of 749 people who have completed MP James Frith’s survey over the past four months.

Another respondent Annette Gamble, from Ramsbottom, said she has had an overall positive experience accessing her surgery, Tottington Medical Practice.

Mrs Gamble, who has asthma, arthritis and heart problems, says she has needed to access her GP about three or four times so far this year.

The 68-year-old said: “I usually book online because I find it is quicker. I can also order my prescriptions online.

“If it is an emergency, you can usually get an appointment on the same day. If it is non-urgent, it is usually two to three days before I am seen which I think is quite reasonable.”

She added: “All of the doctors are really really good. They do not rush you, they listen to you, and they explain things in plain English rather than using jargon.”

The results of this year’s GP Patient Survey revealed that 85 per cent of patients in Bury described their GP practice as good, ­which is higher than the national average of 82.9 per cent. The survey, carried out on behalf of NHS England, asked patients to rate their GP by overall experience.

The NHS described general practice as “the backbone of the NHS” and therefore the reason why an extra £4.5billion is being invested in primary and community care by 2023/2024.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The latest NHS figures show 42 per cent of all GP appointments take place on the same day that they are booked, but we are determined to reduce GP waiting times further.

“Through our NHS Long Term Plan we are investing an extra £4.5billion a year by 2023/24 into primary and community care, including funding up to 20,000 extra staff in GP practices – helping to free up doctors to spend more time with the patients who need them.”

The Department of Health also emphasised that they are working hard to recruit and retain family doctors.

Record numbers of doctors have accepted a place on GP training, according to Health Education England (HEE), who released figures on Thursday which revealed 3,500 trainees had accepted training places.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Our NHS would be nothing without the GPs who deliver crucial frontline care to patients every day, so I am delighted to welcome the highest ever number of GP trainees into the NHS family.

“GPs are the bedrock of our communities, so we’re backing primary and community care with an extra £4.5 billion by 2023/24.”