Five of Norfolk's GP surgeries see less than half of their patients face to face, new figures have shown.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced a shift in the way people receive health care and resulted in more and more appointments being held virtually - either over the phone or via video calls.

And while overall 75pc of all appointments in Norfolk are now carried out face to face, figures have shown five surgeries still lean more on remote appointments.

These surgeries are:

  • Thorpewood Surgery, Thorpe St Andrew (36.5pc face to face)
  • Stalham Stathe Surgery (39pc face to face)
  • Oak Street Medical Practice, Norwich (40pc face to face)
  • Lawson Road Surgery, Norwich (48pc face to face)
  • Lakenham Surgery (48pc face to face)

READ MORE: How did your GP fair in the annual patient survey?

However, while Thorpewood Surgery had the lowest percentage of face-to-face appointments in person, staff carried out more home visits than any other over the course of October - 220.

The figure has sparked concern from Age UK Norwich, with charity bosses fearing older members of the population may struggle with remote access.

Eastern Daily Press: Dan Skipper, chief executive at Age UK Norwich. Photo: Age UK Norwich

Dan Skipper, the charity's chief executive, said: "With GPs being at the frontline of support, having regular and easy access is critical to keeping people safe, independent and reducing the risk of unnecessary health decline and crisis.

"When we conducted some research in 2021, 66pc of people rated the support of their doctor positively but 14pc reported negatively.

"This was mainly the 75+ age group, who found the use of online systems challenging.

"By 2040, the Norfolk and Waveney 65+ population will be nearly a quarter of a million and we will have one of the oldest demographics in the country, so we need to make sure our health and social care systems accommodate and proactively support the population."

Throughout October 2022, 689,573 appointments were honoured by GP practices - 75.7pc of which took place face-to-face. The national average for this is 71.3pc.

Of the region's 105 practices, 72 saw a greater percentage than this national average.

There are also three surgeries - Great Massingham, Hingham, and the University of East Anglia - that hold 99pc of more of their appointments face to face.

Eastern Daily Press:

Sadie Parker, director of primary care at NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: "The recent release of practice level appointment data highlights some of the variations in the way patients are accessing general practice.

"There will always be variations in appointments between GP practices as they will tailor the provision of their services to meet the needs and preferences of their patients.

"One practice may offer more face-to-face appointments, while another provides more online consultations which the data does not take into account.

"The data also does not account for factors such as branch surgeries, differences in patient list sizes, skill mixes available in each practice and the reason for appointments.

"So this data should not be used to draw any conclusions about practice quality or patient care."

Eastern Daily Press: Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: "We welcome the transparency that allows patients access to data about their care, including the option to look at appointment figures.

"It is important these figures are looked at in context because they only take account of data captured on GP surgery's booking systems and some patients are also seen by experienced medical staff who are not GPs.

"When talking to patients around Norfolk, the issue of face-to-face appointments with GPS does crop up quite a lot as many feel they do not have the same opportunities to see them as they did pre-pandemic.

"We feel practices need greater support in explaining how they work after Covid.

"Some are doing this very well through liaising with patients and sharing with the wider community that an initial approach by phone or email is assessed and you are passed on to the best person to help."

Analysis by David Hannant

Eastern Daily Press: GP Dr Ian Schofield.jpg

The Covid-19 pandemic was clearly always going to have a lasting legacy on the health system - which was already under growing strain before the virus hit.

One thing borne of this is the way it has forced remote ways of working into almost all walks of life - and primary care is no different.

It is a debate that can be considered in several ways and it would be naive and unsophisticated view to consider all face-to-face appointments good and all remote appointments bad.

What is of the most vital importance is making sure that the appropriate means of communication are used.

Some scenarios are not suited to remote access - sometimes you need your GP to be able to see and feel something so they know how to treat you properly.

But if utilising remote access can mean a greater number of people are cared for, then it is foolish to write the means off completely.

Clearly, there is a comfort that comes with a face-to-face appointment and it should be the first option made available to a patient.

But it is also positive that remote access is readily available and in many scenarios can be easier or more convenient.

The key thing though is that it isn't used as a one-size-fits-all approach.

What is abundantly clear is that GPs are facing a level of demand they haven't experienced before and are being expected to work in different ways.

If access to care is becoming more flexible and patients are being a greater degree of choice that can only be a good thing. 

What can't happen is that GPs hide behind remote access - but the evidence in Norfolk shows that this is not happening.