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Nearly two thirds of older people struggled to access healthcare during springtime

Published on 23 June 2022 08:30 AM

Age Cymru survey highlights barriers to GP services, surgical procedures, and on-going treatments 

Nearly two thirds of people aged 50 and over (63%) said they had a negative experience of accessing healthcare during February and March this year, according to a survey of nearly 1200 older people in Wales. 

Nearly three quarters of the respondents (70%) reported having a negative experience of trying to access GP surgeries.  As with our previous research, some older people said they had issues with ‘first come, first served’ appointment systems with one responder saying “Dreadful - 116 phone calls in one day to try to see a GP. As a cancer patient requiring basic GP care, I ended up having to call a consultant for relatively minor things.” 

Several respondents were frustrated with the offer of video conference calls since they didn’t own a suitable computer or smart phone.  While others with hearing impairments or who were working full time were unable to accept offers of telephone-based consultations with their GPs. 

Even when older people managed to navigate the primary care system, they often experienced challenges with hospital-based care.  Nearly three quarters of respondents (73%) said they had difficulty in accessing treatment and health checks for several conditions including hypertension, glaucoma and sight loss, heart conditions, respiratory conditions, kidney function, cancer, dermatology, and mental health.  

Many older people told us they’d been waiting a long time to get the surgery they needed particularly with orthopaedics, and hip replacement surgery.  One responder said, “I have been at week 27 of a 55-week waiting list to see an orthopaedic consultant for three years with no proactive contact from the local health board.” 

More than two thirds (70%) of people responding to the survey reported problems in accessing routine dental care.  

As a result of the access difficulties and the long waiting lists, some people said they were forced to use their life savings to seek private healthcare care to relieve their pain. Money that was often put aside to support them during retirement. 

Age Cymru’s chief executive Victoria Lloyd said “This comprehensive survey of people’s experiences of life in Wales during Spring 2022 highlights some very serious concerns.  If older people can’t access the health care they need, when they need it, their condition could deteriorate rapidly thereby requiring more complex interventions further down the line.    

“Older people unable to access the healthcare care they need are far less likely to carry on caring for a loved one or indeed to continue contributing at their workplace or as a volunteer. 

“Clearly, improvements in our health service are urgently required.  Some improvements are relatively straight forward such as GP surgeries taking better account of people’s sensory impairments and understanding that not everyone has access to digital technology when devising booking systems.  

“We are keen to see a comprehensive programme of community-based measures that help keep older people physically and mentally well, such as exercise classes, lunch clubs and learning opportunities.

“There is also an urgent need to introduce more specific timelines on tackling waiting lists for specialisms such as orthopaedic surgery. And there needs to be more consideration and support for carers or family members of those waiting for treatment.” 

Funded by the Welsh Government, the survey was carried out by Age Cymru and the five national older people’s organisations during February and March 2022, tracking equivalent surveys carried out in 2020 and 2021.  As well as accessing healthcare during the pandemic, the survey also focused on several other aspects such as the cost-of-living crisis, the experiences of older carers, older people in the workplace, and views on the year ahead. 

To view a copy of the full survey, visit www.agecymru.org.uk/covid19survey 

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