Why I may never visit a traditional GP again

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I tried to contact my local GP after receiving abnormal blood test results but couldn’t reach them.

I had been feeling unwell for a while. I kept getting a sore throat that never turned into a cold, I was tired and jumpy and suffered from frequent bouts of breathlessness. I contacted my doctor’s surgery but ended up being on hold for ages every time I called, so I couldn’t book an appointment to discuss my symptoms.

The longer this went on, the more anxious I became. I’d heard of Vala Health before but I assumed they would be expensive, like other private healthcare providers. I also wasn’t entirely sure what they did and figured it was best to wait until I could see my GP.

The waiting game

After trying to reach my GP for a week with no success, I decided I needed to try something else. I looked into Vala and found out that it cost £15.99 a month to sign up for unlimited GP appointments for a year. I was shocked - I’d had no idea it was so affordable.

I registered immediately and decided to pay upfront for the whole year as it worked out a bit cheaper than paying monthly or for a one off appointment. I also figured I’d need further appointments. I was able to book an appointment for the same day!

My video appointment was with a GP named Shellane. We started out by chatting through my symptoms. She asked lots of questions and gave me the opportunity to talk about my symptoms and general health. It was so different to my usual GP appointments. Usually I feel as though the doctor is trying to usher me out as quickly as possible! Whereas on the videocall, we took our time and I felt relaxed throughout the appointment.

Shellane said she was sure there was nothing to worry about but, just to be safe, she would write to my doctor’s surgery and ask them to book me in for a blood test. Within two days I received a call from my doctor’s surgery and they scheduled a blood test for me. They explained that wait times for blood tests are longer than usual due to Covid, but they could book me in for the following week.

I had the blood test and was told I could log in to my GP’s patient portal in a couple of days to check my results. Two days later, I logged in to check the results, expecting them to be normal.

I was shocked when I saw my results

My blood test results weren’t normal. I’d had a full blood count done, in addition to a series of other tests, to rule out anything sinister. My red blood cell count showed as ‘abnormal’ as did my haemoglobin levels.

My first mistake was checking Google to see what this might mean. As usual, Google convinced me it couldn’t be anything other than certain death. I burst into tears and started panicking even more. I tried calling my GP’s surgery to request an appointment and when I finally got through to someone, they said they had no appointments until the following week. I couldn’t wait that long! With no medical background and only ‘Doctor Google’ as a reference, I felt lost and scared.

What to do next?

Then I remembered my Valamembership. I logged in and saw that I could book a same day appointment for 3pm - so I booked it straight away. As the appointment loomed, I felt increasingly nervous. I uploaded a screenshot of my blood test results to my Vala timeline and anxiously waited for the video appointment to begin.

The call was with a really friendly GP called Natasha. She immediately put me at ease and told me that we would take our time going through my test results and have a chat about what they meant. She explained each individual section of the blood test report and how it applied to my body. We reached the ‘abnormal’ section and I took a deep breath…

Nothing to worry about!

Natasha explained that despite the report showing an abnormality, my results were actually great! She said my red blood cell count and haemoglobin levels were slightly higher than average, which is why they showed as ‘abnormal’. In fact, she explained, I was in really good physical health and my results were positive as they ruled out any infections or underlying conditions.

I felt so relieved! But, I didn’t understand my symptoms - if there was nothing wrong physically, why did I feel so awful all the time?

Instead of telling me everything was fine and ending the call, Natasha then asked a few more questions about my current stress levels, anxiety and how much sleep I usually get. I explained that I’ve been feeling particularly anxious due to Covid and the enormous impact it’s had on me, and on my family. While we’re lucky to have avoided infection thus far, our work lives have been disrupted, we’ve had a stressful period of juggling work and childcare for a number of months and I’ve been sleeping poorly since my daughter was born three years ago.

Stress and sleep

As we chatted, Natasha suggested that my symptoms may be related to stress and a severe lack of sleep. She explained that sleep has a huge impact on how our bodies and minds function and that it can even contribute to our metabolism and emotional wellbeing. Natasha then recommended I visit a website called Sleep Station and she gave me some practical tips for getting a good quality sleep, which I scribbled down as she spoke.

Next, we talked about Covid and the emotional impact of lockdown. I realised that with my husband and I both working from home full-time and not being able to socialise with friends, we had lost our motivation and started spending too many evenings lounging in front of the TV or looking at our mobile phones. The breathlessness was likely down to anxiety and a dose of cabin fever - the best solution was to make more time for exercise and relaxation.

Natasha also suggested I schedule online catch ups with friends, virtual cocktail nights with the girls and evenings away from the TV and my mobile phone. She asked about any interests or hobbies I used to enjoy before having a baby and we discussed how I could try to reignite my passion for them during lockdown. For instance, I have a piano that hasn’t been played in years, a list of odd jobs around the house that I never get round to and about three unfinished books I don’t have time to read. Perhaps the issue isn’t a lack of time, it’s a lack of motivation?

Overall, I was so pleasantly surprised with the in depth, Functional Medicine approach that Vala took. Rather than looking to quickly palm me off with medication, I was treated like an individual with Natasha taking the time to get to the root of the problem and treat the cause rather than the condition.

Beating the lockdown blues

As I’m starting to feel more optimistic at the thought of making some positive life changes, Natasha has suggested we book a follow up session soon, so we can start working on how to tackle my stress and sleep issues.

In addition, we’re going to explore ways of rediscovering my motivation and happiness, despite the Covid restrictions. I feel relieved to have a medical professional at my fingertips who is not only available to help me when I need it, but who genuinely cares about my long-term happiness and wellbeing.

I wanted to share my story because I know so many people are struggling with their mental, emotional and physical health during the Covid lockdown. £15.99 a month is a bargain for unlimited GP appointments and ongoing, proactive advice on how to live better and feel healthier. I’m so glad I found Valahealth and would recommend it to anyone (and I have already!)

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