I just wanted to give you all an update on what is happening at Alford Medical Practice with regards to GP staffing and the provision of appointments. I apologise in advance for such a lengthy message but I feel it is necessary to let you know what is happening, why it is happening and assure you that we are doing our best to continue to provide our patients with a functioning service.

There have been a lot of staff changes over the past year, not only GP-wise but with Nursing and Admin staff too. Most recently, as you may or may not be aware, Dr Vorenkamp has been off sick for a few weeks and it is anticipated that this will remain the case for at least a month or two yet. Of course, as you would expect, no-one in the practice is at liberty to divulge the nature of his illness as this is confidential and we wish to respect his privacy.

Added to this is Dr Dow’s forthcoming departure, at the end of January, as she goes on maternity leave.

For those of you who have attended the practice recently, you will have noted that we have employed the services of locum GPs and an Advanced Nurse Practitioner to see us through some of our busier days but it is proving difficult to source locums who can completely fill the gap that Dr Vorenkamp has left. The remaining doctors have been endeavouring to continue to provide a good level of service but there has been an impact on appointment waiting times.

Unfortunately, the lack of GP appointments has not been helped by the number of patients who failed to attend their appointments. In November, 89 patients did not attend their appointments (36 GP and 53 Nurse). This equates to 3 GP afternoon surgeries and 3 morning surgeries for the Nurses.

Some of these appointments were between 20 and 40 minutes long, using between two and four of our 10 minute slots which could have been opened up and offered to other patients, if the appointments had been cancelled.

You could argue that the GPs should see more patients in the afternoon, however, they need time to go out and visit poorly patients at home, sign prescriptions, process their mail (blood results and letters from the hospitals) as well as make referrals to hospital for patients. Added to this is an ever increasing amount of work that the hospitals ask the GPs to do on their behalf as they are too short staffed to deal with work generated there also.

The practice is currently looking to fill two posts – the first one is to cover Dr Vorenkamp’s sickness absence and the second is to fill the vacancy that will be created when Dr Dow goes on maternity leave.

We have been advertising for a GP or Advanced Nurse Practitioner to fill Dr Dow’s post since October, with little success. There is a lack of GPs in the area, indeed the UK, and like many other practices, the GPs have to find ways to keep the service running with a shortage of clinical staff. We do, however, still have Open Access in the mornings and we offer a call back from the Duty Doctor, should you wish to speak to someone rather than make an appointment. It should be noted that Open Access appointment slots are limited as the GPs can only see a certain amount of patients each per morning surgery. This becomes even more limited when a doctor is off on annual leave or is absent for another reason. If all the Open Access slots have been taken before 10am you will be offered a call back by the Duty Doctor who will determine how best to deal with your problem.

If you do wish to receive a call back, the GPs ask that you give the Receptionist an idea of why you are requesting this, so that the Duty Doctor can prioritise their phone call list.

You can help the GPs in a small way by handing all claim forms (insurance, holiday cancellation etc) in to the Receptionists rather than using an appointment to hand it to the GP. Unfortunately, the practice is unable to offer appointments for medical examinations at the moment but our Receptionists can advise on whom to contact if this is required in the next few weeks.

You should see the Nurses or Phlebotomist for health and lifestyle advice, blood pressure checks and blood tests.

You also have an option to drop into a local pharmacy to get expert advice or information on healthcare, as well as help with your medicines. There is no need to make an appointment. Your pharmacist sells a wide range of over the counter medicines to treat minor ailments such as hay fever, athlete’s foot and cold sores. Treatment for minor ailments is provided free of charge under the Minor Ailment Service to patients exempt from prescription charges.

You do not always need to see a GP for minor complaints as these can often be treated at home. For minor ailments such as earache, a GP will often only recommend trying simple pain relief for 48 hours. Antibiotics are rarely recommended for colds, coughs, earache and conjunctivitis where symptoms have been present for less than 48 hours but advice can be sought from the Duty Doctor if you are concerned.

Eye problems are best dealt with by an optician and dental problems by a dentist. All the local opticians and dentists offer urgent/same day appointments.

Other health resources are available online such as,, and – all of which have lots of helpful information.
Please also have a look at our own website for up to date information about the practice and the services we offer.
As I said, the GPs and staff are doing their very best to ensure that the practice continue to provide a good service and we are all grateful to everyone for your patience during this difficult time.

The shortage of GPs and other health care professionals is not particular to Alford and, in 2013, the Royal College of General Practitioners set up the Put patients first: Back general practice campaign in response to the considerable challenges facing modern general practice. From overflowing waiting lists, to mountains of bureaucracy, to simply not enough GPs, the profession is battling on all fronts.
They called on the governments of the UK to increase funding for general practice from an historic low of 8.39% of the UK NHS budget back to its previous share of 11%. In order to meet the demands of a growing and ageing population, they have calculated that we need an additional 9540 GPs across the UK.
The Scottish Government have taken action to remedy this and on 15 October 2016, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP, announced an increase in spending on GP practices and health centres.
The GPs welcome this statement of intent to reverse the funding deficit to general practice and allow it to build to meet the challenges faced by the health service.
General practice is the cornerstone of the health service, conducting 90% of patient contacts in the NHS for less than 7.4% of the Scottish NHS budget. If general practice fails, the whole NHS fails.
Further information can be found about this on

Finally, I would also like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the GPs and Staff at Alford Medical Practice, to thank our patients for the lovely Christmas cards and gifts that we have received over the festive season (it is very much appreciated) and to wish you the best for 2017.