‘We’re busier than ever’ GP hits back at patients over face-to-face appointments



One of North Staffordshire’s most prominent GPs says family doctors are busier than ever – as coronavirus lockdown restrictions continue to ease.

Silverdale GP Paul Scott – who is chairman of the North Staffs Local Medical Committee – has hit back at claims that patients have found it near impossible to get a face-to-face consultation with their family GP during the pandemic.

It comes as A&E queues are rising at the Royal Stoke University Hospital during lockdown three.

Now Dr Scott says every GP he knows is carrying out face-to-face consultations.

He said: “It’s national policy for patients to be telephone triaged for many reasons. With coronavirus we need to limit the concentration of patients in our surgeries. The buildings are a fixed size and the two-metre space gap still maintains so there is a footfall issue in most of our practices.

“In most cases, people may think we are closed but we are not. The national average is that we are seeing up to to 50 per cent of our patients face-to-face, especially when you count all the nurse appointments and the vaccinations going on, and not just the Covid ones.

“All GPs I know are seeing patients face-to-face every day. The difference is we are doing it after having triaged them and for a lot of patients we can sort them out on the phone. We also have video and picture capability on the phone where people can send in photos and we can speak to them on video and talk to them and that has made a big difference.

“Timewise it hasn’t saved us any time. But it has saved our patients a lot of time because many of them don’t need to come and see us and we can send them prescriptions via the internet directly to the pharmacist.

“The Covid epidemic has jumped us forward in one big step. This was an evolution that was gradually happening in the background in most practices but on March 19, 2020 when it hit, there was this jump in how we’ve changed.

“The hospitals and GPs themselves are even busier. Hospitals are doing an awful lot of outpatients by phone and in many cases it makes complete sense but it’s also cascading a lot of work on general practice. A lot of stuff the hospital doctors used to do are now delegating down and that is giving us issues.

“The average GP is now between 20 and 40 per cent busier than we were ever before Covid came and it particularly hit us after Easter.

“The closed doors thing is more of a perception. Many practices have always ‘stayed open’. About half use a buzzer intercom which is more to control flow. At my own practice we are looking, within the next week or two, to open our doors so patients can come to reception and do the usual stuff they used to do. We are not going to change the triage system of our patients because overall it does work.

“Face-to-face communication is always going to have an edge over the telephone and for some of our patients the technology is a challenge. When we need to see people, and as a GP I need to see people to make certain referrals to do certain things where you really do need to examine physically, then that is happening.

“For a lot of patients they are doing a lot more home monitoring with blood pressure machines and checking their own temperature and there are other ways for people to do home monitoring. It is a change and no-one likes change.

“We physically couldn’t accommodate the old way of working. As an experienced GP and having worked previously out of hours for many years we did a lot of triage that was very effective. For the more experienced GPs we have adapted. For some of our doctors in training it has been a particular challenge and an evolution as well.

“Hopefully what patients will see in the coming weeks, and this matches the whole country Covid policy, is a relaxation and opening up of premises for normal reception-type access. We will never be going back to what was happening before because technology has moved on and there are efficiencies and gains in that.

“For some people they can much more regularly access their doctor from work. A bigger concern for us is the delays for all the non-Covid patients for hospital procedures which is a real issue. We are having to manage patients while they are waiting longer and longer for follow ups and operations – it’s a huge challenge for the NHS.

“The other thing GPs have done in North Staffordshire is deliver almost three quarters of the Covid vaccines in parallel and on top of the normal day job and North Staffordshire has been number one in the country for the success of delivering the vaccine.

“The patients will see a difference in the coming weeks and being able to walk into practices. The telephone filter won’t go.”

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