Following recent media coverage, we are seeing increased demand from patients for face-to-face appointments with a GP and receiving formal complaints when this is not forthcoming. Therefore, we feel it necessary to make patients aware that GP practices are not contractually required to offer face-to-face appointments to patients irrespective of clinical need. The recent letter sent to Practices from NHS England and the media coverage around it has had the effect of creating unrealistic patient expectations at a time when General Practice is already struggling with an unprecedented workload.
Nationally GP practices have delivered large numbers of face-to-face consultations throughout the pandemic, in addition to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination programme. They have also been operating a ‘total triage’ model in line with previous guidance from NHS England.
The letter and recent media coverage ignore that there is a national shortage of GPs which meant patients faced a long wait for a GP appointment even before the Covid pandemic. Saltash Health Centre has been fortunate enough to recruit additional GP’s following recent retirements, however, inevitably there is some recruitment lag. For example; Dr Katie Bleksley has left General Practice at the end of June, while we have recruited a replacement, this GP is not available to join the team immediately and so in the short term there will be reduced availability of GP appointments.
Throughout the COVID pandemic Saltash Health Centre has adapted new ways of delivering care to patients. Due to the continued uncertainty regarding the spread of the virus and the prevalence of a new variant, many of these changes will be with us for the foreseeable future.
Saltash Health Centre has remained open throughout lockdown. However, in order to comply with Covid restrictions and more recently increased patient demand following the easing of lockdown, the way patients access the surgery and appointments has been changed. We have introduced an intercom system at the main entrance to the surgery and now ask patients requesting an appointment to complete an e-consult online. These changes enable us to limit footfall into the surgery, in order to protect patients and staff, and also allocate limited appointment availability most appropriately based on clinical need. Our GPs and other clinicians are currently dealing with around 1,400 patients per week via a combination of e-consult, telephone and face to face appointments.
Accessible from our website, e-consult provides an excellent option for all patients and all problems. Click on the blue bar which says, ‘Contact your GP online’ and follow the prompts. The system is available between 06:30 – 20:30 Monday to Friday. Your query or problem will usually be dealt with within 2 working days.
The series of e-consult questions are clinically validated and enable the system to direct you to the most appropriate service. This may be a face to face or telephone appointment with a GP, nurse, practice paramedic or other clinician or you will be directly signposted to another provider such as a local pharmacy. All the information you enter is sent to the practice via a secure portal. For those who require GP assessment, the information you have entered is extremely helpful and often lets the GP see exactly what needs to be done before further contact is made. This system works well for most patients and, whilst many problems can be assessed over the telephone, we do have alternative means for seeing patients when necessary, be it face to face or via video.
For those patients without access to the internet, there is an alternative to complete an e-consult with one of our Patient Co-ordinators over the telephone. However, this is time-consuming from an admin perspective and engages the phone lines which prevents other patients from contacting the surgery. Therefore, we ask that whenever possible, the patient or a suitable representative completes the e-consult directly.
Saltash Health Centre is extremely grateful for the way in which patients have supported and co-operated with the changes we have implemented and embraced these new ways of working. We therefore ask for your continued support and patience during this transitional period, whilst we continue with the Covid vaccination programme and deal with the backlog of medical care that the pandemic has created over the last 18 months.