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Plea for tolerance as New Milton GP Dr Will Howard reveals abuse suffered at hands of patients

A NEW Milton GP who told how he had faced more abuse over the pandemic than he had throughout his career has pleaded with those seeking medical help to be more tolerant.

Dr Will Howard, from New Milton Health Centre in Spencer Road, shared his experiences while addressing an audience of over one hundred people at the memorial centre for the first in-person open meeting of the town’s residents’ association in 18 months.

Emphasising that GPs have been under unprecedented pressure, Dr Howard pointed out some had even ended up contemplating leaving the profession.

Dr Will Howard speaking at the New Milton Residents's Association meeting
Dr Will Howard speaking at the New Milton Residents's Association meeting

“As a GP for 20 years I’ve never had so many aggressive episodes with patients as I have had in the last 18 months – certainly the last six months,” he said.

“To leave a consultation physically shaking is not a pleasant way to work.”

Dr Howard spoke as one of five representatives of the Coastal Medical Partnership (CMP), a merger of the health centre and three other surgeries – The Arnewood Practice in New Milton, Barton Surgery and Lymington’s Webb-Peploe Surgery.

They were giving a presentation entitled Beyond the Pandemic, outlining the challenges still being faced due to Covid-19.

“Please be patient with our staff – they only have one pair of hands and one pair of ears,” the CMP executive member continued.

“Being angry isn’t going to improve the outcome for anybody, it will just make it worse for everybody.”

As rigorous infection control measures continue for both staff and patient safety, surgeries are operating a total triage model. This involves phone or online consultations, during which it is decided whether patients should be seen in person.

Citing a recent Daily Mail campaign for the return of face-to-face appointments, Dr Howard said exhausted GPs had phoned him close to tears, saying they could not see how they could do more than they were already doing.

“Some even said they were thinking of leaving,” he said. “That scares me as a professional in charge of the operation, and it should scare some of you too as patients.”

He also referred to the recent “dreadful” attack at a Manchester surgery, where four staff were injured, two of them hospitalised with head injuries.

More than 100 people attended the meeting at New Milton Memorial Centre
More than 100 people attended the meeting at New Milton Memorial Centre

CMP’s senior business manager, Matt Perkins, apologised for long phone waiting times, explaining demand had risen “exponentially” across the surgeries serving a total of 34,000 patients.

He announced a new telephone system was set to be put in place in January 2022, which would tell callers their place in the queue and provide an average waiting time.

But he warned: “Whatever the phone system’s like, if there’s a lot of people trying to get through, there will be lots of people waiting.

“We have 34,000 patients. If 1% called in at the same time, that’s 340 patients; and we don’t have 340 receptionists.”

The meeting’s attendees largely welcomed the CMP’s efforts, with applause for successes including being among the UK’s first to commence Covid-19 vaccinations.

But, calling the presentation “a charm offensive”, one resident expressed concern that some GPs seemed to only work part-time and asked if they could work more hours.

Dr Howard responded that some worked two or three days a week as they were caring for children or elderly parents the rest of the time, or had other professional responsibilities.

CMP executive member and Webb-Peploe GP, Dr Chad Tew, pointed out a GP could make 60-100 medical decisions for patients during a 12-hour shift.

Relating the issue to long-distance bus drivers whose shifts are limited for safety reasons, fellow executive member Dr Debbie Miles, from Arnewood Surgery, said GPs working too many hours could actually endanger patients.

However, another resident spoke out: “You shouldn’t have to sit there justifying yourselves. You do the job you do.” This garnered a further round of applause for the medical team.

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