Desperate patients resorting to writing letters to get seen by a GP

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Demand on doctors has remained high in the wake of the pandemic – and many practices have launched app-based appointment services and online portals to help people get access to surgeries. However, one councillor has revealed how struggles accessing GP appointments at some practices has led to some patients taking unusual measures to get seen.

Newtown councillor Paul Weston has shared how his mother resorted to writing physical letters to get seen, Teesside Live reports.

Just one of the members at Stockton’s adult social care and health select committee unimpressed with the digital options available to them, and their constituents, he said: “If my family is anything to go by, half of them are just about managing texts.

“Ask them and they’ll probably think an app is short for apple. They’re not stupid – they’re just a million miles away from being able to cope with an app.

“Everything going online is a real struggle. My mother last week was trying to get an appointment with a doctor – a lot of that is going online and she couldn’t get through on the phone.

“This is a top tip – she actually ended up writing a letter to the doctor and the doctors’ had to reply. That’s how she got an appointment in the end.”

Cllr Lynn Hall backed up Cllr Weston’s story – telling the committee she’d seen people going in with letters as that was the only way they could get through to the doctor. The member for Hartburn added: “It’s really annoying them now – wny medical thing is on an app for a smartphone and lots of people out there don’t have a smartphone.

“We’ve got to be careful about these apps. Cllr Weston has made a really valuable point – we’re talking here about 90+ year old people we’re caring for.

“We’re trying to keep them at home but their children are in their 60s or 70s in some cases so an app isn’t necessarily the total answer. They’re going to have to go belt and braces and do both.”

A push to more online GP services has been backed by NHS England to offer patients more options and access to healthcare. Officials say the government is “committed to enabling patients to go online to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view their own health records within their GP practice”.

They argue it is saving time for practices and their patients, allowing them to take more control of their healthcare. Health bosses faced a grilling about access to appointments earlier this year

Karen Hawkins, from the now defunct Tees Valley CCG, told a committee how high quality patient care no longer relied solely on the “traditional model” of GP delivery. Ms Hawkins added: “We have seen a significant increase in demand for practice and GP services over recent months, but GPs are delivering services and will continue to deliver services.

“There are new ways of consulting with patients and there is a significant demand now for e-consultations and video consultations, and GPs and other staff can undertake those remotely as they did through the covid period. There still is the requirement for GPs to see patients face to face when it is clinically necessary and each practice will determine who is the most suitably qualified person to see each patient based on their needs.”

When contacted for comment on the latest appointment access concerns, NHS England said: “GP teams carried out 26 million patient appointments during July, with two thirds delivered in person – the highest percentage of in-person appointments since the start of the pandemic. 

“While the majority of people get an appointment on the same day, and more than seven out of 10 patients say they have a good experience at their practice, the NHS is determined to make it easier to get an appointment, which is why the health service has invested record amounts in primary care.”

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