Row breaks out after patients are accused of reducing staff at doctors' surgery in the Yorkshire Dales to tears - but councillors claim they are frustrated at loss of services

A row has erupted over patients’ treatment of staff at two GP surgeries which serve patients across a 500-square mile area.

Upper Dales Practice managing partner Lynne Conway at the Hawes surgery
Upper Dales Practice managing partner Lynne Conway at the Hawes surgery

Days after patients at the Central Dales Practice in Hawes and Aysgarth were told in a statement that “no receptionist should be reduced to tears by a patient’s attitude towards them”, a community leader has hit back saying residents are frightened following the loss of services at the surgery.

The appeal for patients to stop taking out their frustrations was issued by the Upper Dales Health Watch, the mandated patient participation group for the Wensleydale practice, which is formed from patients of the surgery and aims to help it work as well as it can for patients, doctors and staff.

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The group said the volume of the 4,250 patients on the surgeries’ list seeking medical help had increased dramatically from a pre-Covid average of up to 40 patients a day at open access surgeries, although it did not give a comparable recent figure.

The group’s secretary, Jane Ritchie, said receptionists, who were supporting the Covid vaccines scheme alongside their normal duties and identifying vulnerable patients who need urgent help, had taken the “brunt of patient unhappiness” over being unable to see a doctor immediately.

She said: “The pressure may not be visible to patients, but it is affecting the speed at which patients can have a consultation. No receptionist should be reduced to tears by a patient’s attitude towards them.”

Hawes councillor Jill McMullon said many residents had been upset by the accusations.

She said: “Nobody would condone patients being unpleasant to receptionists, but the GP practice has to understand why they are being like that, and it’s because they aren’t getting the attention and care they were before.

“The services are going backwards. Patients are being told there is a wait of possibly two weeks for an appointment unless it is urgent, in my experience you don’t ring a doctor unless you think you need attention so what exactly is classed as urgent?

“This in turn dissuades people from attending and late diagnosis could have a major impact not only on the NHS as a whole, but also on individuals.”

Following residents raising concerns over services such as ear syringing and minor stitching being ended at the surgeries, Coun McMullon highlighted the issue to Healthwatch North Yorkshire, which is yet to respond.

She said: “Can you imagine if you are on own and cut yourself and then are told you need to travel many miles to go somewhere like the Friarage Hospital to get stitched up. A few months ago it would have been done at the surgery. It is a lack of care.

“I’m extremely fearful that lives may potentially be at risk as serious problems may well be ignored because it is impossible for some to attend hospitals.”

When asked about the service changes, a North Yorkshire clinical commissioning group spokesman said it had not recently decided to discontinue ear syringing or minor injuries at GP surgeries. He said: “There remain some historic variations in commissioning policies between areas of North Yorkshire.”