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Huge rise in GP surgeries using phone and video appointments

PUBLISHED: 09:02 02 May 2020 | UPDATED: 09:02 02 May 2020

Between March 2019 and February 2020 the vast majority of appointments in Norfolk and Waveney were carried out face-to-face. Photo: Archant

Between March 2019 and February 2020 the vast majority of appointments in Norfolk and Waveney were carried out face-to-face. Photo: Archant

Archant

GP surgeries across Norfolk and Waveney have “transformed how they work” in response to the coronavirus lockdown by dealing with patients over phone and video.

Before lockdown was imposed, these mediums accounted for an average of just 12pc of appointments across Norfolk and Waveney’s CCGs between March 2019 and February 2020, with the majority of appointments taking place in person.

The figure for phone and video consultation was lowest across surgeries in Great Yarmouth and Waveney at just 6.3pc - and highest in Norwich at 16pc.

There were also 1,820.559 home visits recorded across regional CCGs over the same time period.

But all surgeries, regardless of previous practise, have now had to move quickly to adapt to social distancing restrictions imposed by the Government, using new technology to move away from reliance on face-to-face interaction.

GP in Norfolk and Waveney who is the local clinical lead for digital technology said: GP in Norfolk and Waveney who is the local clinical lead for digital technology said: "Most patients understand the challenges we are facing during this coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and are happy to give this new technology a try." Photo: Peter Steffen/dpa via AP

In a statement, Norfolk and Waveney’s CCG, which was officially merged on April 1, said: “Work to roll out new digital technology has been in progress for many months and has accelerated in recent weeks to help prepare and respond to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

“Over 80pc of GP practices in Norfolk and Waveney have now adopted online consultation systems and video consultation systems. Others have switched to telephone triage and consultations.

“To support GP practices to work in new ways and to enable staff to work from home, NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has delivered 400 laptops (with webcams), 500 standalone webcams, 500 headsets and 50 iPads to primary care.”

Statistics available from the CCG’s online consultation systems shows a 50pc increase in use of that method across Norfolk and Waveney - something unthinkable just a few months ago.

Ms Allatt said her surgery had become Ms Allatt said her surgery had become "more efficient" during the pandemic. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

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Fakenham Medical Practice is one surgery which has seen appointment waiting times reduced by 90pc due to a new system called Footfall, enabling patients to go online and request advice.

Georgia Allatt, 21, from Norwich, who has frequent contact with her doctors at the Humbleyard Practice, said her online calls since lockdown had been both “efficient and simple”.

She said: “Taking into account how much strain the medical sector has been under, I actually think it’s really impressive that they’ve implemented such an efficient digital approach to seeing patients.

Josie and Barry Fitzgerald, from Great Yarmouth, say their surgery has been Josie and Barry Fitzgerald, from Great Yarmouth, say their surgery has been "brilliant" throughout lockdown. Picture: Josie Fitzgerald

“After they called me, they were able to email me a document to take to the pharmacy when before I used to have to go and pick it up.

“I actually prefer it this way. I have always thought that if an issue doesn’t need to be inspected by a doctor that a phone call would suffice - so I’m glad they’re moving towards this approach rather than insisting everyone is assessed in person.”

Likewise, 66-year-old Josie Fitzgerald, from Great Yarmouth, said that her GP, Park Surgery, had responded “brilliantly” to the lockdown.

She said: “I’m an insulin dependent diabetic and I’ve had no problems ordering my prescriptions online and getting hold of them.

“My husband also had a throat biopsy performed on the day of the lockdown and didn’t have to wait long at all for an answer. The consultant from the James Paget gave us his results over the phone without any issues or delay.”

“The only frustration was that my appointment with a diabetic nurse at the hospital was cancelled - and I’ve been told I will need to be re-referred by my doctor all over again when this is over. But that’s not too much of an issue.”

Dr Ed Turnham, a GP in Norfolk and Waveney and local clinical lead for digital technology, said: “We are really grateful to patients who have embraced new digital technology at our surgeries.

“Most patients understand the challenges we are facing during this coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and are happy to give this new technology a try.

“Many are pleased to find the online system offers a convenient way to get help quickly.”

The spokesperson from Norfolk and Waveney’s CCG did stress, however, that if patients do need face-to-face appointments, or home visits for those who are housebound, they will be offered one.


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