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How the GP freeze failed me: Alone without basic healthcare, medication or advice by Peter Ferguson

In March 2019, The Guildowns Group Practice (GGP) announced it was freezing the intake of all new patients with the exception of "new-born babies of current patients or first degree relatives (parents, sibling or child) or spouse/civil partner, living at the same address of a current patient." (Guildowns.nhs.co.uk)

At the time of the freeze, it was unsure whether it would be permanent or temporary and that the cap on registrants would hopefully be lifted before the new intake of freshers arrived in September. After all, can you imagine a university taking in an entire new cohort of students without its on campus GP surgery being able to register new patients? That would be absurd! Except that is what happened.

Freshers week 2019 involved University staff at The Hive helping students register at nearby alternate GP surgeries. For the incoming freshers, this could easily be seen as a wonderful university initiative to help everyone have access to a doctor when they need it. What new students won't have been told is that the university has been recklessly pursuing a policy of rapid expansion over the past few years in an effort to attract more lucrative investments and contracts with donors and alumni. This rapid expansion has also been done without accounting for the impact that a sudden increase in student numbers has on the local community and, most importantly, the local infrastructure. Guildford is not a historic university town. The University of Surrey was only relocated here from London in the 1960s and since then the town has struggled to cope. The congestion seen in traffic and the extortionate rents are symptoms of this. However, it is only now that the crisis has revealed itself more visibly in the form of the NHS. The Guildowns Group Practice has over 30,000 patients registered at their four locations. This is because it not an exclusive student resource but one available to the wider Guildford community. Unfortunately, the rapid increase in student numbers has forced it to the point where it can no longer cater to the student body.

In my case, this should not have been an issue. I was registered at the GP and had been so for an extended period of time and there should have been no reason for this to change. However, when I tried to request a doctor's appointment and a repeat prescription after the 2019 Easter break, I was told that I was no longer registered with the GP and that they could not help me further due to the freeze on 'new' registrants (despite the fact that I should not have been considered 'new' in the first place). When I enquired further, I was told that another practice had requested the transfer of my medical records to their surgery but due to data protection laws, I could not be told where or why. I was told that if I had used other NHS services elsewhere in the country or registered at another GP, such as in my home town, then I would have been registered back there. I hadn't. I was left in the reception area of the campus GP being told that I could not see a doctor I had regular appointments with nor could I request the medicine I needed to take daily. All because my records had been moved, without my permission, to an unknown location, that neither I nor the receptionist could see, for reasons that no one knew. It is an absolutely absurd situation that no one would ever expect to encounter. Yet I was being told exactly that. When I persisted in trying to find out what I could actually do to access the basic level of healthcare that would be assumed a simple right to any member of the public, the receptionists were utterly useless. I was simply told that they didn't know what to do or how to help.

After the nightmarish reception based fiasco, I was able to liaise with 111 and a local pharmacy where I was able to arrange a short term emergency prescription. Thankfully the pharmacy and 111 staff were far more helpful and informed on how to proceed from the mess that was my status as an unregistered/registered elsewhere patient. From their help I was also informed that I was not in fact registered at another surgery, as I had been told by the GP receptionist team, instead I was listed as an inactive patient whereby I was registered nowhere and had been removed from the GGP list of registered patients. There was no valid reason for this to be the case. There was no support network in place to deal with this situation. There was no accountability process to resolve this issue. All I could do was try to find basic healthcare at another practice without the support of the university or the GGP, who should have had a basic duty of care to assist me in finding a new doctor's surgery and to provide me with the essential medication I need daily.

What proved the ridiculousness of the situation and the abysmal failure of the NHS to help me was that, the receptionist at the other GP practice that I later registered with, told me that the GGP did in fact have the capacity to both see where I was 'registered' (or not registered in reality) and also to hear that the GGP should have been obligated by their duty of care to me to provide me with essential medication that I required. Neither of these things happened in reality. I had to deal with a break in taking my medication and in turn had to deal with serious health consequences.

The staff involved were clearly incompetent, untrained for a situation like this and equally confused by the apparent impossibility of the situation. When I needed assistance the most, I was simply told that they genuinely had no idea on what to do now. The strangest thing of all though? I don't blame them. I blame the University and its pursuance of expanding student numbers beyond what the community and the university itself can handle. The NHS wasn't equipped to deal with my case. It was an anomaly that to this day hasn't been explained properly. Yet despite this, it would never have occurred in the first place if the local NHS hadn't been stretched far beyond capacity by the sheer scale of university expansion. If a student was accidentally deregistered in previous years, then it would be a simple matter of reregistering them. Instead, I was left without essential medication or advice and had to source my own solutions and a new GP surgery, further out from my home, without my regular doctor there, or any form of familiarity or comfort.

While the University may now be helping students register at other GP practices and acting upon its duty of care, it completely failed me in its duty of care to me.

Credits:

Created with an image by Hush Naidoo - "This was captured well waiting for the doctor who was busy at the time"