A mother-of-two died suddenly while ‘waiting on the phone for nearly two hours for a doctor’s appointment,’ her heartbroken family has claimed.
Devastated relatives allege that the popular baker Helena Maffei – described as ‘the soul of Kidderminster’ – was trying to get a GP appointment for breathing difficulties when she went collapsed at home in front of her 28-year-old son.
Paramedics arrived and gave the 55-year-old CPR but were unable to save her on Thursday morning and she passed away.
Helena had run family business Continental Bakery for 35 years with her husband Tony and lived above the shop in Stourbridge Road, Kidderminster.
Her shocking death comes amid a national outcry for GPs to return to offering face-to-face appointments again now that lockdown has ended and society starts returning to normal.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid even waded into the row, promising to slash red tape to give family doctors time to undertake more appointments in person.
Mr Javid called on GPs to offer ‘face-to-face access’ in the Commons earlier this week, amid reports doctors are being ‘offered bonuses’ to keep attendances in surgeries low.
Helena Maffei, 55, collapsed while she waited on the phone for almost two hours trying to get through to her local GP in Kidderminster, Worcestershire
Paramedics arrived and gave the popular baker CPR but were unable to save her on Thursday morning and she passed away
Ms Maffei’s family said the baker was feeling ill at home and was held in a long queue to get through to Church Street Surgery in the Worcestershire -based town when she collapsed and died.
Daughter Gaetana Maffei, 30, from Stourbridge, said: ‘Mum had been having health anxieties and so was trying to get an appointment as she was feeling breathless, but was hanging on the phone from 8.30am to 10.15am trying to get through.
‘Her phone battery died during the call and she had to ring back and get in line again.
‘She got through, just as she collapsed and the receptionist was saying a doctor could call her back at 11.30am.
Paying tribute her family said: ‘Mum was the soul of Kidderminster and we called her ‘Wonderwoman’ because she never stopped. She was the glue that held the family together’
Move away from in-person appointments ‘contributed to at least five patient deaths’
Remote GP appointments may have contributed to the deaths of five people who did not see their doctor in-person, a coroner has concluded.
Doctors missed important details in telephone appointments that may have been spotted if they were seen in face-to-face, senior coroner for Greater Manchester Alison Mutch warned.
Fadhia Seguleh – who had phone call appointments with her GP about her anxiety and depression, which the corner warned made it harder to assess her needs – committed suicide in her home on February 25.
Ms Mutch also had concerns about the role of remote doctor appointments in the deaths of three other people, who died from a fatal blood clot in the lung, undiagnosed Covid and a drug overdose.
And a a fifth patient, who was a frail elderly man with a host of severe underlying health conditions, died after breaking a bone that wasn’t spotted by hospital doctors and his GP in a phone call consultation.
Experts have long-warned that moving away from in-person appointments can lead to missed diagnoses.
A third fewer people are seeing their GP in-person now compared to before the pandemic and tens of millions were ‘lost’ during the Covid crisis.
When the Covid crisis hit the UK, GPs were urged to conduct all consultations remotely and only invite patients for an in-person appointment if it was necessary, in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.
In May, as infection levels were dropping, NHS England ordered GPs in May to offer all patients in-person appointments alongside remote ones and were offered cash bonuses for meeting virtual consultation targets.
But doctors condemned the move and the British Medical Association’s GP committee labelled the move ‘completely inappropriate and dangerous’.
‘My brother Giuseppe rang the ambulance and was giving her CPR and the paramedics did too when they arrived, but it was too late.
‘It’s a real shock for the family. She passed away in my brother’s arms and it is just the saddest thing.
‘My mum put all her trust in the doctors but there seems to be no urgency with them. The GP surgery put you on hold for ages and that feels useless.
‘You wait and wait in phone queues to see a GP.’
Church Street GP surgery’s phoneline has a recorded message that due to reception staff self-isolating, there will be delays to answering calls.
It adds that the surgery is ‘currently experiencing high levels of calls’ and says that ‘if your condition is life-threatening or a medical emergency’ to redial 999.
‘Mum was the soul of Kidderminster and we called her ‘Wonderwoman’ because she never stopped. She was the glue that held the family together,’ said Gaetana.
‘We just don’t know what to do now.’
Glamorous Helena grew up in Worcester, where her mother Anna Kryschanowskry and two sisters still live.
Married to Tony for 32 years, she also cared for her father-in-law Gabriel Massi.
‘Mum and dad did everything together and were still so in love, holding hands and being romantic,’ added Gaetana.
‘She was loved, everyone loved her and would beep their horns as they went passed the shop when she was sweeping up leaves.
‘Mum was so kind-hearted. Within minutes of meeting her, you would feel as though you had known her for years, and by the time you left the shop, she’d know everything about you too. Kidderminster has lost a heart of gold.’
Virtual doctors appointments were heavily encouraged throughout the Covid crisis in an attempt to keep social mixing low and hospitals virus-free.
But trusts have continued to incentivise the practice, with GPs being offered bonuses to keep in person attendances low.
Recent data from NHS Digital showed 57.2 per cent of appointments in July were conducted face-to-face.
Speaking on behalf of the GP practice, a spokesperson from Wyre Forest Health Partnership said: ‘As is usual in General Practice we do not comment on individual patient cases, however we will always speak with patients, their families or representatives and investigate with them, where there are concerns or complaints.
‘Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.
‘The surgery is one of five practices which make up the Wyre Forest Health Partnership.
‘So whilst the surgery did lose team members on Thursday due to a Covid positive result, they were immediately replaced with experienced staff from our other practices.
‘We have worked hard throughout the pandemic to offer an accessible service to our patients, and we have seen patients face to face throughout this time.
‘We have recruited additional reception staff at the surgery, as well as offering a variety of ways for people to contact us to seek help.
‘As General Practice is finding nationally, at the moment it is very, very busy and our phone message does advise that if patients feel they have a life-threatening medical emergency to hang up and dial 999.
‘As we go into winter we would strongly urge all those who are eligible for the flu or third Covid immunisation when it falls due, to have them in order to help protect themselves against what will undoubtedly be a very difficult winter.’
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