The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we use our GP practice. Instead of phoning for an appointment or walking-in to a surgery, access to care has rapidly moved to online bookings, and video and phone consultations.
To understand how remote appointments are working for people Healthwatch England undertook an extensive review of people's access to GP services, drawing on almost 200,000 people’s experiences that were shared by local Healthwatch between April 2019 and December 2020.
Healthwatch Southwark contributed to the report by sharing the experiences of local people, many of whom had struggled with a lack of communication about changes to the GP's service, and remote appointments not always meeting their needs.
It is so important that we keep receiving your feedback - the Healthwatch England report has already led to several recommendations at national level, including:
- NHS England review of new ways of accessing GPs: there has been a rapid shift to digital appointments, phone triage and encouraging 'NHS 111 First', which has left some groups experiencing a worse service. There is little evidence that people have been consulted about how they view these changes.
- GPs must ensure they provide timely, up-to-date and relevant information about changes to their service, how people can get help, and what to expect from the service. This includes reaching out to patients to find out their preferred method of communication.
- Wherever possible, GP services should offer patients a choice over the type of appointment they would prefer (e.g. video, face-to-face, home visit).
- Addressing inequality in GP services: for example by making reasonable adjustments to communication methods, and providing call handling training to staff.