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GP appointments drop in Bucks

As COVID-19 affects how doctors surgeries run there are worries over to consequences of people not seeking medical advice.

Published by Scarlett Bawden-Gaul at 8:00am 10th May 2020. 4-minute read.

GP appointments drop in Bucks

GP surgeries in Buckinghamshire saw a significant drop off in appointments in March, as the effects of Covid-19 hit trips to the family doctor.

The Royal College of GPs says the decline in patients seeking help for non-coronavirus related conditions is concerning and could have serious consequences.

But the NHS says changes in how surgeries operate during the pandemic may have affected the figures, with remote sessions underreported.

NHS Digital data shows that 33,279 GP appointments were recorded in the NHS Buckinghamshire CCG area in the last seven days of March.

This was 36% fewer than in the first week of the month, and 35% below the same week a year previously.

Across England, practices recorded a 30% reduction in sessions between the first and last weeks of the month.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the RCGP, said the data will not capture other ways care is being delivered, such as via “Covid hubs" and GPs providing NHS 111 support.

He added:

“Nevertheless, a decline in patients seeking medical help for conditions and illnesses unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic is concerning and could lead to serious consequences, as we have seen in previous health crises.

“As such, we want to remind patients that GP practices are open and if they are seriously ill or concerned about their health – or if, for example, they or their child is due a vaccination – they should contact their GP practice.”

The NHS said the decline does not necessarily mean GPs are offering fewer appointments overall.

waiting room

It added doctors could be using more list appointments, in which contact with several patients is only counted once, while online and video sessions “may also not be routinely captured”.

Medical director for primary care Nikki Kanani said:

“Last month practices delivered nearly 25 million appointments – over the phone, online or face-to-face where needed – and the majority took place within 48 hours, showing that even during these unprecedented times, if people require help from a GP they are able to get it, making contact initially by phone or online.”

The figures also show 44% of appointments in Buckinghamshire in the last week of March were recorded as face-to-face, compared to 79% in the first seven days.

Meanwhile, telephone appointments rose from 20% to 55% over the period.

The Patients Association has urged the NHS to closely monitor the consequences of the shift to more remote consultations, Chief executive Rachel Power said:

“If the findings show that it’s been positive for patients, then we’d like to see plans to make more routine use of telephone consultations once the pandemic is over.

“But if this isn’t the case, then GPs will need support to correct any shortcomings in patient care.”

The RCGP said its own data showed 71% of routine consultations were done remotely in the four weeks to April 12, compared to just 24% over the same period a year earlier.

Prof Marshall said that while general practice will remain a face-to-face service, being able to offer remote appointments will be beneficial long after the pandemic is over.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the data did not “accurately reflect” the changes in general practice during Covid-19.

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