A healthcare ‘postcode lottery’ in County Durham is seeing some patients wait weeks to be seen by a specialist. 

Struggles to secure a GP or dentist appointment and the financial pressures facing pharmacies around the region were highlighted by councillors at a recent health scrutiny meeting. 

Some people in rural parts of the county are faced with a nine-day wait to see their GP but patients in other areas can secure an appointment on the same day - a process which councillors branded unfair. 

Councillr Matt Johnson, of Shildon and Dene Valley, said: “GP accessibility is still a real postcode lottery. I hear stories about people waiting a week or two weeks to see a doctor, whereas in other parts of the county you can call in the morning and see them on the same day.”

Patricia Jopling, Conservative councillor for Crook, said the delays could have serious consequences on residents’ health.

She added: “Hell and high water they won’t see you. What worries me is that people aren’t caught when they need to be treated. A lot of hospital admissions could be prevented but it just doesn’t seem to be happening.”

Cllr Johnson called for the process to be equalised across the whole county.

“It doesn’t seem fair at all that people in Crook need to wait nine days when somebody in Shildon can be seen the same day,” he added.

Meanwhile, local pharmacists are also reportedly facing financial difficulties and uncertain futures. Dental practices have also been asked to carry out other routine health checks on patients, where possible, due to the demand. 

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Cllr Lucy Hovvels warned: “I know of pharmacists that are in a serious situation, looking to go into liquidation, and are fighting to survive which creates another pressure on the health service.”

Health bosses say they have invested in primary care and local area hubs to treat people with respiratory illness, freeing up space in hospitals and GP surgeries, and have also put more resources into urgent community response. 

Sue Jacques, CEO of County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust, said: “ We’re working very closely and look to support where we can in whatever ways we can. We will do all we can within the level of constraint that's imposed nationally.”