Our feedback contributes to a national conversation about GPs

This week, a national report has been published documenting the struggles that thousands of people have faced trying to get a GP appointment during the pandemic. The report features our work on the lack of support available on GP websites in Medway.
GP Access for all

The Covid pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way we all use our GPs. Instead of phoning for an appointment or walking into a surgery, access to care changed almost overnight to online bookings and video and phone consultations.

The move to remote appointments has allowed GP practices to keep services running for millions of people. Remote consultations have made getting care quicker, more efficient and easier to fit around their lives for many people. 

But, as this new national report makes clear, many people are struggling to access care from their GP practice, leaving them feeling frustrated and confused. Certain groups also risk being left behind, such as older people, disabled people, people affected by homelessness and on low incomes, and those whose first language isn’t English. 

What does the report say?

Over 200,000 people contributed to the report which includes feedback from Medway residents about their experience of visiting their GPs since the pandemic started.

The report also details our research which showed that 26% of GP websites in Medway had no information about visiting the surgery safely, such as PPE.

Other headlines include:

  • An increase in the number of people who find it hard to book GP appointments, including regular health check-ups and treatments, such as vitamin B12 jabs. Some people reported worrying symptoms they were experiencing due to not receiving vitamin B12 treatment – including extreme tiredness, confusion, low mood and hair loss.  
  • A lack of choice over types of appointments, especially for those who felt they needed face-to-face appointments, left some people worried their health issues were not accurately diagnosed. These problems were often more of a concern for disabled people, people with long-term health conditions, those without access to the internet and for anyone whose first language isn’t English.   
  • Consistent reports of homeless people being inappropriately asked for identification and proof of address when trying to register with their GP practice, leading to health issues remaining undiagnosed. 
  • Some elderly patients were advised to go online to book their flu vaccinations or order prescriptions without checking first whether it was a realistic option for them.  
“GPs are a vital first port of call for people who need care; they are the main ‘gatekeeper’ to other services. If people cannot get through to a GP, not only can their health and wellbeing be put at risk, but demand on already overstretched hospitals gets worse. People will go to A&E if there is nowhere else to go, and their condition may deteriorate leading to an increased treatment and care, because they couldn’t get help sooner. “The shift to remote care during the pandemic has understandably happened extremely quickly, but there is little evidence that people have been consulted about how they view these changes. As we move out of the pandemic, thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, the NHS has a great chance to address how people choose to access GP services, as well continuing the improvements brought about by new ways of offering the service.   “We urge the NHS England to undertake a formal review of the ways people access GPs to make sure it is working for everyone. It is important that people understand the changes brought in during the pandemic are here to stay and how that affects the way they can get the care and support they need.”
— Sir Robert Francis QC, Chair of Healthwatch England

Downloads

You can read Healthwatch England's full report below, plus our own review of GP websites and the support they have offered Medway residents during Covid.

Healthwatch England GP Access for All
Healthwatch Medway Spotlight on GP websites

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