Almost one in two GP appointments this year were on the phone (Image: Solskin/Getty)
She was first prescribed antibiotics after suffering a recurrent sore throat in lockdown. She later had a heart attack and was resuscitated before being put in a coma for weeks only to develop sepsis ‑ all by the age of 25. Caitlin relived her ordeal as NHS figures showed only just more than half of patients (56.3 percent) see a GP in person during the pandemic. The tattoo artist, of Brighton, says she was told in the virtual consultation that she would need her tonsils removed if the problem reoccurred.
She said yesterday: “I feel like I’m in a living nightmare.
“I had started getting sick in October time with tonsillitis. But in March, the day before my birthday, I got really sick so my boyfriend called an ambulance and I passed out on the way to it.
“And then died inside it. So I was dead when I arrived at the hospital, which is round the corner from my house, luckily.”
Following the heart attack, her family were called to the Royal Sussex County Hospital and told to say their goodbyes after blood tests revealed Caitlin had acute myeloid leukaemia and kidney failure.
She was put into a coma and given emergency chemotherapy: “I wouldn’t have made it through the night without the chemo.
“I was given another round on the morning of my birthday while I was still in a coma. The doctors just did everything they could to get the cancer out of my body.
“I woke up mid-April from the coma and it wasn’t until then that I was told I had cancer. Basically, I died.
“If I had been seen in person, I think I would have had a blood test then and there which would have picked up that.”
Caitlin said she lost much of her short-term memory and had to be reminded that her sister May had died from cancer.
Caitlin believes her symptoms could have been picked up in a face-to-face appointment (Image: Adam Gerrard)
“When I woke up, I didn’t know that Covid was a thing and it had to be explained to me. I had no recollection of the last few months of my life at all.”
Caitlin has a YouTube channel about her cancer battle which she said “has helped me to get to know people who have been through a similar thing”.
Caitlin is in remission and hopes to finish her chemotherapy, which caused her to lose her hair, next month: “My kind of cancer isn’t the type from which you get the ‘all-clear’. “It’s just a case of going through the treatment. I have to keep returning to hospital to keep an eye on my blood levels. I’m feeling positive.”
The number of face-to-face GP appointments has plummeted in the Covid crisis, while June was the busiest-ever month at A&E units ‑ more than double a year ago.
Phone appointments soared from around one in 10 pre-pandemic to almost one in two this year. Patients’ groups have expressed concern over the situation.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said that feedback from patients “could not be clearer.
“There are limitations to what can be achieved over the phone.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said in-person appointments ought to be increased steadily.
He said: “Now that we have started to open up I think that working together with GPs we can see better direct access, especially face-to-face access.”
NHS England has told GPs they must re-open practice receptions and let the public book initial face-to-face appointments.
But some doctors say the situation is a balancing act with Covid infections still high in places.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said: “GPs are experts at assessing and managing risk, something they do every day and in every patient consultation.
“It’s why the large number of patients who have attended GPs surgeries when it was necessary for them to do so have done it in as safe a way as possible.
“It is though completely inappropriate ‑ and dangerous ‑ to imply that by “embracing risk”, GP surgeries, or indeed hospitals, should actively put our patients or workforce at greater risk of harm.
“Important measures including risk-management that are there to keep some of our most vulnerable patients as well as staff safe from a deadly disease must be maintained.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Our deepest sympathies go out to Ms Buckley, as well as all those who have been affected by cancer on top of the uncertainty and challenges of the pandemic.
“Cancer diagnosis and treatment has remained a top priority ‑ most cancer services are operating at pre-pandemic levels.
“To further ensure consistently high levels of care, the NHS wrote to GP practices last month reiterating the clear expectation that practices should offer a blend of face to face and remote appointments.”
For further details of Caitlin’s cancer battle and to donate go to Caitlin’s cancer fund on gofundme.com
In-person appointments will be increased steadily (Image: Luis Alvarez/Getty)Comment by Imedla Redmond CBE
It is right that patients should get face-to-face appointments when they need them and practices should be consistently doing everything in their power to respect people’s individual needs.
Giving people the agency to decide what sort of appointment is right for them is not about simply giving people what they want, but is a vital way for the system to actually manage people’s varying needs more effectively.
We also don’t expect practices to return to exactly how things were before the pandemic and neither would many of those for whom remote care options are working well.
A return would be a bad thing, partly because pre-pandemic systems had their own biases and we should reduce inequalities.
We are also acutely aware of the high rates of Covid-19 infection in some areas.
Too much face-to-face interaction right now could compromise the safety of staff and patients alike.
What is needed is a balance and people do understand this.
Imedla Redmond is National Director for Healthwatch England
Comment by Rachel Power
Workloads at GP practices are at crisis levels, while many patients who need face-to-face appointments have been struggling to get them.
The NHS needs to work in partnership with patients to find ways to solve the current problems ‑ and the Treasury must furnish the NHS with the resources it needs to provide services patients can access when they need them.
The message from patients could not be clearer. They are struggling to access GPs.
When they actually do get hold of one, they do not feel confident that a remote consultation meets their needs.
Maybe in the future, online consultations will offer a better solution, but for now we know there are limitations to what can be achieved on the phone.
Subtle but important symptoms that would likely be picked up in person can be much more easily missed.
In cases when meetings would have revealed a serious illness, the consequences can be devastating for patients.
Rachel Power is Chief Executive of the Patients’ Association