The last 14months have been difficult for all of us. From a practice perspective it has been one of the busiest and most challenging periods we can remember. In our role, as healthcare professionals, we have seen a huge shift in how healthcare is accessed in primary care (community services like GP, pharmacy, optician) and secondary care (hospitals).
We understand that it might be difficult or confusing trying to access an appointment so it might help to explain how the practice is running at the moment and why.
At the start of the pandemic in March 2020 we were advised by NHS England to move to a ‘triage-first’ approach. This means you are asked some clinical details ahead of booking an appointment so that we can prioritise those most in need, screen for possible covid symptoms and reduce footfall in our reception areas.
Alongside this, even before the pandemic, GPs were encouraged to offer online consultations as part of our contract.
Throughout the pandemic we have never been closed. The media will have you believe we haven’t been seeing any patients; this is simply not true.
All of our clinicians (doctors and nurses) have been seeing patients face-to-face during the whole pandemic – after some triage whether online or by phone.
We continue to operate a mostly telephone-first service in line with NHS England procedures. However, we will always see any patient who needs a face to face review after a conversation with a GP or nurse and this will usually be on the same day.
It is likely that practices across the UK will not go back to the old model of open access to face to face consultations going forwards, despite recent media stories. Why not? There are a number of factors:
- There are not enough GPs or practice nurses across the country – we need more.
- Many patients prefer the ease of an online or phone consultation.
- GP workload increases year on year without sufficient increase in funding. We have a small budget in comparison to other parts of the NHS and so we have to use our limited resources as efficiently as we can.
- Not all patients need face to face with a GP – after some triage many can be better managed by another clinician such as a clinical pharmacist or physiotherapist.
- Face to face consultations are really valuable – having flexible consultation models allows us to give more time to those that need to come in and see us.
- During the pandemic we have to don and doff (put on and off) PPE and clean the room and equipment between every patient, this takes additional time and reduces efficiency.
So, how can you get an appointment when you need one?
Please phone and speak to our care navigators, they will ask for some brief information about your symptoms to understand if you need to have a consultation on the same day, within a week or if it can wait longer. This allows us to ensure people who are really unwell are helped sooner and those with routine issues still get addressed, although they may have to wait for their appointment.
If we have filled all our appointments but you feel you cannot wait, you can contact the local GP hub on 020 3770 1888 between 12noon and 9pm on weekdays and between 9am and 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays, or you can call 111.
For issues that are relatively straight forward such as requesting a medical certificate or minor infections you can use E-Consult – you will have seen the banner on the front page of the website.
If you find it difficult to use the phone or internet you can still come in to the practice and speak to the care navigator at the front desk.
Here are some statistics to show how hard we are working:
Between 1.1.21 and 31.3.21 we conducted
1766 face to face appointments
4747 telephone appointments
279 econsults (online consultations)
390 home and nursing home visits
91 extended/out of hours appointments
Compared to the same period of time last year we have completed 10% MORE appointments of all types.
This is in addition to working at the vaccination centre at Hornchurch library. Some of us have also been supporting the local hospitals by working in A+E during the pandemic, providing clinician cover for 111 and also staffing the covid ‘hot hub’.
What we are working on:
- ways to reduce the waiting time for routine appointments
- how to safely re-introduce routine face to face appointments
- how to manage online bookings for a wide range of appointment types
Thank you for your patience whilst booking and waiting for appointments.