Unfortunately, this change has seen many patients struggling to access their doctors, particularly those without easy access to technology or the confidence to use virtual services, meaning some have been going without that essential contact.
However, from today the NHS has issued guidance to all GPs which says they must ensure they are offering face-to-face appointments to all patients. They can continue to offer video, online or phone consultations in addition, but only if the patients would benefit from this.
The letter says that patients should have a say on the type of appointment they receive and that a preference for face-to-face care should be respected unless there are clinical reasons not to, for example, if the patient has COVID-19 symptoms.
GP receptions should now be open to patients
The guidance to GPs also outlines that their reception should now be open to patients, while still meeting social distancing guidelines. This is to make sure patients who can’t use the phone or computer to book an appointment, are able to visit and book in person.
GP websites must contain contact information
Every GP website must also include information about how to contact the GP and ask for help, and how to access face-to-face and walk in services as well.
Be patient when requesting an appointment
The NHS is still incredibly busy dealing not only with the ongoing pandemic, but also catching up on the backlog of regular and ongoing care that had to be put on hold during the crisis, meaning the service is still under pressure.
GPs are currently very busy organising and delivering the vaccines to patients, as well as running their regular services and catching up on routine care, so while they will be happy to be able to see patients again, it might still take time to get in for an appointment.
It might be that you can find the information you need from other sources, for example, from the GP website, or from calling NHS 111, rather than automatically trying to book an appointment with the doctor.
We are aware of differences in the quality of GP services especially with respect to access and type of appointments on offer. If you are having difficulty with your GP then please do get in touch with us at Healthwatch West Sussex.