Our GP answers all your questions...

Q. Why does my GP Practice close every month for the afternoon, and why do I have to explain what’s wrong with me to the receptionist?

A. GP Practices across our area close for a half day once per month, and we do appreciate this affects our patients.

We always put contingency plans into place, via our colleagues at Cumbria Health On Call (CHOC) to make sure that our patients can see a GP in an emergency, and our community pharmacies also remain open for help and advice.

But we don’t close our Practices to cause difficulties, we do it because we want to improve and learn, and keep up to date.

GP practices are at the front line of the health service and there isn’t time in the working day to get GPs, nurses, receptionists and other staff all together in the same room. We have to close the practice and have an organised session. Benefits of this have been seen throughout the area and cover latest techniques, important clinical updates, customer service training, patient feedback – a whole host of information and other learning that go to improving the patient experience.

A good example of this is Prostate Screening - mentioned recently in this column. There is a difference in national stories, such as Bill Turnbull’s recent experience, and what in reality is available. Yet your Practices wants you to have the real facts to base your decisions on.

So, sorry for any inconvenience – but please understand that we just want to make things better for you in the future.

It’s the same reason the receptionist will ask you some basic questions. We want to help you get the best treatment we can – and sometimes that may not be seeing your regular GP – or even seeing a GP at all. A lot of us have specialist interests – so the receptionist will ask you some basic questions to see whether you need to see a general practitioner, or a GP with a special interest, if you have some symptoms which suggest they may be the best person to see.

Sometimes the practice nurse will have a shorter waiting time – and may be able to treat you better than a GP would, so you may be offered an appointment with them – but unless the receptionist checks what you need to see someone about – they can’t get you to see the right person at the right time.

Q. I’m flying abroad this summer, am I at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or sunburn?

A. Now is around that time of year that people’s thoughts turn to holidays. Most people link DVT to flights but it is actually the fact that this forms part of a ‘long’ journey. There are conditions which may increase your risk of DVT on journeys of eight hours or more.

These include having a history of DVT or pulmonary embolism, cancer, stroke, heart disease, inherited tendency to clot (thrombophilia), recent surgery, obesity, pregnancy or hormone replacement therapy.

Before you travel, don’t leave it until the last minute to buy medication, compression stockings or anything else for your flight.

Wearing compression stockings during journeys of four hours or more can significantly reduce your risk of DVT, as well as leg swelling.

The below-knee stockings apply gentle pressure to the ankle to help blood flow. They come in a variety of sizes and there are also different levels of compression, with the mildest being generally sufficient.

It’s vital that compression stockings are measured and worn correctly. Ill-fitting stockings could further increase the risk of DVT.

Flight socks are available from pharmacies, airports and many retail outlets. Take advice on size and proper fitting from a pharmacist or another health professional.

During your journey, wear loose, comfortable clothes, consider flight socks, walk around whenever you can, drink plenty of water and don’t drink alcohol or take sleeping pills. A little bit of planning ensures you can really enjoy that holiday.

Turning to sunburn – it isn’t something that just affects you when you’re abroad. The Easter weekend saw some glorious weather and of course people were reminded to cover up and use sunscreen. Sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer. Remember the sun still shines through when it’s cloudy.

There’s no safe or healthy way to get a tan. A tan doesn’t protect your skin from the sun’s harmful effects.

However sunshine does help you get Vitamin D so you need to strike a balance. Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest. Mainly this is between 11am and 3pm.

In addition, try to make sure you never burn. Try covering up with suitable clothing, and protect those eyes from glare with sunglasses. Children sometimes need persuading!!

Your pharmacist can advise you on the sunscreen to choose but in general use at least factor 15 and a four star UVA protection.

The sun protection factor, or SPF, is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection. The star rating measures the amount of ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection. The higher the star rating, the more protection.

Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen. As a guide, adults should aim to apply around two teaspoons of sunscreen if you’re just covering your head, arms and neck or two tablespoons if you’re covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume.

If you’re worried you might not be applying enough SPF15, you could use a stronger SPF30 sunscreen.