Over the last year the way General Practice works has changed drastically in response to the COVID 19 pandemic.  GP surgeries in Darlington and most NHS areas have been open throughout and have never stopped seeing patients face to face. Over the last 2 months GPs are seeing a phenomenal and unprecedented rise in demand for their services and this is continuing to increase. Practices want to be able to deliver the best and safest care they can for all of our patients.

Some of the changes of the last year have improved access to GP services for many people.  Waiting times for GP consultations has reduced drastically, with most consultations now taking place on the day they are requested. This has happened because of a system called total triage, this means that patients will call or submit an eConsult and this will be triaged.  Initially a receptionist trained in care navigation will review the request and ensure it is sent to the right professional.  That professional with then review the request and decide on the most appropriate outcome.  This may mean a patient receives a text message with advice, a telephone call from a clinician or a face to face appointment.  These decisions are based on clinical need and enable us to target the resources to those that need them most.

If we were to return to opening up all of our appointments as before, we would very quickly see an increased waiting time for GP consultations. We will undoubtedly be seeing more and more people face to face over the coming weeks as lockdown eases, but this will be a gradual process and not a sudden return to exactly how care was delivered before.

We are aware that for some people remote consultations are very challenging, for example if English is not your first language or due to hearing impairment. Throughout the pandemic we have endeavoured to see these groups face to face where safe and practical, this will continue.

Self-care is a vital aspect of the healthcare system.  Many minor conditions can be managed at home without accessing the GP or hospital services. Advice can be sought from the NHS website and from your local community pharmacy who can dispense medication for minor ailments.  If GP services are overwhelmed with minor ailments there will not be the appointments for those with more serious problems.

If the community pharmacists are unable to help and the problem is not urgent, consider submitting an online consultation via eConsult on your GP practice’s website.  This will give the GP a lot of information and often conditions can be managed quickest this way. If your problem is more urgent or you are unable to use technology you can call your GP surgery.

GP practice receptionists are the front line of primary care, they are highly skilled care navigators and do their upmost daily to enable our patients to access care.  Unfortunately due to demands on our services they cannot always give people what they were hoping for.  Most people are understanding of this, but an increasing minority are becoming abusive. Please remember our teams are people too, all doing their very best and they don’t deserve to be abused at work.Healthcare is not an unlimited resource.  Despite working very long hours, GPs and nurses in primary care are struggling to keep up with demand, alongside delivering the vast majority of covid vaccinations to our towns population which takes GP staff out of practices.   As a primary care network we will be employing new roles over the next year which we hope will improve access to primary care services, therefore we need to continue the care navigation and triage of appointments to ensure this resource is targeted to those with the most need and that patients get to consult with the most appropriate professional first time.