'Huge surge' in GP appointment bookings in Suffolk and north Essex
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Doctors' surgeries in Suffolk are facing an "immense" rise in the number of patients booking appointments as more Covid restrictions are eased.
According to NHS Digital data, a total of 3,260,374 appointments were booked in primary care - the first point of contact in the healthcare system - in the East of England in March this year.
This was a rise from 2,716,954 in the region in February, and March's total was the second-highest number of appointments booked since the start of the Covid crisis last spring.
In February 2020 - before the start of the pandemic - there were 2,819,045 bookings made.
Dr Mark Shenton, chairman of Ipswich and East Suffolk NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: "We have seen an uptick from Easter time, when vaccination rates have gone up and people have started to feel more confident.
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"There is a lot of concern from GP colleagues - they are doing the best to meet the needs of their patients.
"But GP appointments aren't a reflection of the actual demand. There are different ways of reflecting what the demand is.
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"The overall demand on practices can't just be measured on appointments."
Dr John Havard, senior partner at Saxmundham Health, said: "On a Monday, we may get between 500 and 600 calls - it's immense.
"It's because patients are ringing up far more than they used to. Demand has gone through the roof and it's much harder than it used to be.
"There's definitely a shortage of GPs. The government has realised that partners hold primary care together - and many have fallen apart.
"The government needs to respect that over 90% of contact happens in primary care. Most of what happens in primary care affects what happens further afield.
"If we can put the people into primary care, we can sort what happens in secondary care."
Dr Hasan Chowhan, chairman of North East Essex CCG, added: "We are experiencing a huge surge in calls from patients.
"This is due in part to a backlog caused by many people not wishing to visit their GP during the pandemic, or prior to being vaccinated. These calls are in addition to the usual volume of calls we would expect to get at this time."