While half of all GP appointments during the pandemic have still been face-to-face, many practices have turned to telephone or video appointments to help people access healthcare advice safely from home, where appropriate.
Unfortunately, this change has seen many patients struggling to access their doctors, particularly those without easy access to technology or the confidence to use virtual services, meaning some have been going without that essential contact.
However, from today the NHS has issued guidance to all GPs which says they must ensure they are offering face-to-face appointments to all patients. They can continue to offer video, online or phone consultations in addition, but only if the patients would benefit from this.
The letter says that patients should have a say on the type of appointment they receive and that a preference for face-to-face care should be respected unless there are clinical reasons not to, for example, if the patient has Covid symptoms.
- GP practices must ensure they are offering face to face appointments.
The chair of the Royal College of GPs says, ‘Once we get out of the pandemic and return to a more normal way of living and working, we don’t want general practice to become a totally, or even mostly, remote service.
Digital or telephone consultations are a quick and convenient way for some people to access their GP, so they are likely to continue to be offered. However, Healthwatch Wokingham have heard from people who are unable to use technology, have vision or hearing impairment or who feel very anxious about using the telephone or video call. The letter states, that practices should respect the patient’s preference for face-to-face consultation unless there is a good clinical reason to do otherwise. (such as Covid-19 symptoms)
- All practice receptions should be open to patients
This is very important so that people who do not have telephone access are not disadvantaged. Social distancing guidelines must be followed so where there is limited space it may still be necessary for people to queue outside. People who come to reception should be triaged in the same way they would be over the phone.
- Practices should engage with the local population and adapt their processes in response to feedback.
- GP surgeries should provide clear information on how to access services.
Websites should include information on how to contact a GP and how face to face and walk in appointments can be arranged. This should be available is accessible formats including other languages. Information should also be available to those who do not have digital access.
- Recommendation for practices to review telephone hold messaging to ensure it is not confusing or complex. It should be clear to the caller how long they may be waiting.
Be patient when requesting an appointment
The NHS is still incredibly busy dealing not only with the ongoing pandemic, but also catching up on the backlog of regular and ongoing care that had to be put on hold during the crisis, meaning the service is still under pressure.
For GPs, they are currently very busy organising and delivering the vaccines to patients, as well as running their regular services and catching up on routine care, so while they will be happy to be able to see patients again, it might still take time to get in for an appointment.
It might be that you can find the information you need from other sources, for example, from the GP website, or from calling NHS 111, rather than automatically trying to book an appointment with the doctor.
If you are having difficulty accessing your GP surgery or you are unable to have an appointment in a format that suits you then please contact Healthwatch Wokingham on 0118 418 1418 between the hours of 09:00 – 17:00 Monday to Friday.
Or email email@example.com