A GP whose mother died not long after being turned down for an appointment at her local surgery has written a stinging attack about societal breakdown that says has driven many to needlessly overuse services.
Alan Woodall’s mother, Catherine, died, aged 69, after a month in a coma. A few days before she went into a coma, she was feeling unwell, but her local GP surgery did not have an appointment available until the following week.
Dr Woodall said his mother’s death was “as preventable… as I’ve ever”. He added her delay in getting help was partly due to “a very small, but massively overusing section of the population” who feel entitled to clog GP surgeries with very minor problems.
In a post on the ResilientGP website, the organisation he co-founded to combat burnout in his profession, he attacked a change in attitude to the NHS which sees increasing numbers of patients insist on appointments for trivial matters. The blog, entitled “A tragic death due to overdemand and undercapacity”, has been shared widely online.
Dr Woodall, a GP, in Wales wrote: “… sadly my mother has just died, at 69. A life cut short, a husband bereaved, a son without a mother… [She] died of biliary sepsis and hepatic encephalopathy after a month in a coma, on and off ITU. The care she received was exemplary ….. I have nothing but admiration for them. But all are overworked, underresourced, and this was as preventable a death I have ever seen.
“My mum became generally unwell a few days before my dad found her in a coma. Being a working-class miners’ family, who grew up in a spirit of solidarity and community support, and taking only what they really needed from the state, they did not want to bother her GP. A day before she was admitted to hospital, they tried to get her an appointment, but not knowing how to press the buttons ahead of those more savvy consumers well-trained in claiming emergency need for their complaints to get what they want … there were no appointments available until the next week. She retired to bed and never properly woke up.”
He has said that he did not blame the patients themselves, but said their reliance on GPs was a symptom of the way community support has disintegrated. “We have fractured families and communities which don’t help each other out and, as a result, all the problems and minor illnesses that used to be tackled in the community are ending up with the GP. We have become the social worker, the priest, the mother-in-law, the family friend to everybody and we can’t do that because we’re simply overwhelmed by demand.”