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What you said about GP services during the pandemic

Information and advice

We asked how easy it had been for people to get information about how to keep themselves and others safe during the coronavirus pandemic. 657 people answered this question.

454 people (69%) said they had found it very easy or easy to find this information. 55 people (8%) had found it difficult or very difficult to find information. 457 (70%) people had found this information on national government and NHS websites and 398 (61%) from the media.

When looking for information about how to contact their local GP, 350 people (53%), had found this on their local surgery website or social media. 169 people (26%) had received this information by email or text message and 127 (19%) said they already had the information. Some people had also telephoned their GP surgery for information.

Where people found information about how to contact their local GP

  • 53%: online – your local GP surgery website or social media
  • 26%: received by email or text message
  • 19%: Already had the information
  • 13%: Online – national organisations’ websites (for example Government and NHS)
  • 12%: Online – local organisations’ website (NHS Kernow website, council, local hospital or Healthwatch)
  • 7%: Other (please specify)
  • 7%: Online – social media more widely
  • 6%: From family or friends
  • 6%: Media (for example television, radio or newspaper)
  • 2%: Not applicable

181 people (28%) said they had found information on how to access GP and pharmacy services during the pandemic difficult to understand. Some of the reasons for this were:

  • removal of or changes to online prescription systems
  • inconsistent and confusing messages on websites and recorded messages
  • exclusion of carers from surgery
  • telephone appointments are difficult for some people
  • unable to see own doctor for long term condition
  • inaccessible hours for full-time workers
  • difficulty accessing online services
  • difficulty getting through on telephone
  • unclear what support was available for shielding patients

533 people said they had contacted their GP during the pandemic. This is 82% of all responses to this question.

235 people (47%) said they had contacted their GP during the pandemic about an ongoing condition. 156 people (31%) said it was for a new condition and 109 people (22%) said they had needed to contact their GP about both a new and ongoing condition.

Using your local GP

Some people told us they had found accessing appointments better than usual, for example, receiving prompt call-backs or appointments. While others said it was more difficult to access appointments, for example, due to lengthy waits on the telephone and the number of questions in the e-consult form.

120 people (24%) said the surgery’s response time was quicker during the pandemic than it had been before the pandemic.

533 people said they had contacted their GP during the pandemic

Some of the reasons people told us for quicker surgery response times included:

  • same or next day call back
  • easier access for working people
  • liked being able to talk to a doctor on the day and use video
  • email was received the next day
  • streamlined system using e-consult, phone call, invitation to attend, with minimal waiting time
  • GP telephoned about hospital clinic letter
  • prescription or x-ray sent electronically
  • quick service providing sick note
  • phone system seems better and quicker
  • seen very quickly for potentially urgent problem
  • receptionists able to advise on how to contact GP in a quick and efficient way
  • planned nurse led visit, instructions and process were clear and efficient
  • used the online system which was very good

192 people (38%) felt the surgery’s response time was the same, while 163 people (33%) said the response time was slower.

Reasons for this included:

  • e-consult forms long and complicated or can cause delay
  • receptionist as gatekeeper delayed getting a response
  • lack of referrals for existing problems
  • waited 15 minutes in car park to be called in
  • difficulty getting an appointment
  • long answerphone messages and menus
  • missed calls as at work as no allocated date or time
  • delays in callbacks or responses
  • time taken to handwrite letters to doctor and pharmacy
  • unable to get through on phone
  • length of wait for appointment
  • COVID-19 patient re-directed to 111
  • hard to get any information
  • sent to MIU, could have been seen by a nurse
  • left without medication and repeats not done
  • lack of access to GP, psychiatrist and CPN

People have been able to access their GP during the pandemic in different ways including through e-consult, face-to-face (either at their usual surgery or an alternative surgery or special clinic), via telephone or video consultation.

500 people told us about their experience of their consultation. Many people had a good experience and felt they were seen quickly. They also told of their experience that:

  • their consultation was efficient and well organised
  • e-consult was good, quick and accessible
  • fast call-backs and clear advice
  • blood samples taken
  • face to face was not overcrowded
  • felt doctor had more time to talk at face to face appointment than before
  • every precaution taken at door, seating sorted well, personal protective equipment (PPE) used
  • telephone appointments feel safer and easier
  • reassuring
  • red and green areas worked well

Some people felt that services were difficult to access or that GPs had closed their doors and did not want to see patients. They also told of their experience that:

  • limited or restricted access to a GP
  • not all patients wearing face masks
  • unable to see a doctor, no call-back receive, unaware that appointments available or not informed of results
  • concern about when normal service will resume
  • offered alternative medication
  • staff attitude or availability
  • difficult to get through on phone
  • elective procedure, so did not contact GP
  • e-consult not good for ongoing conditions
  • no online access so unable to be seen easily
  • difficult to explain symptoms when can’t see doctor
  • cancer diagnosis may have been sooner if seen face to face
  • sought private consultation
  • telephone difficult for hard of hearing
  • lack of time in consultations

We asked people that had attended a face to face appointment if they had felt safe with the use of social distancing and PPE. 247 people (49%) said this question did not apply to them. 224 people (45%), the majority of the 253 people who answered the question, said they had felt safe. 12 people (2%) said that they could have felt safer, 13 people (3%) felt neither safe nor unsafe and 4 people (less than 1%) said they did not feel safe.

Some of the reasons people said they had not felt safe included:

  • unapproachable staff who assumed patients knew what to do
  • staff not wearing appropriate PPE
  • shielding patient had to attend pharmacy

Other comments people made about GP services included:

  • self-treatment of minor illnesses but would prefer to see GP
  • feel let down
  • health and mobility has declined
  • doctors and surgery staff are working hard to keep people safe
  • wrong scan ordered
  • face to face appointment may have swayed decision re procedure
  • concern for those with dementia and their carers
  • practice website doesn’t explain process
  • praise and thanks for GP and pharmacy services
  • nurse didn’t wash hands before blood test
  • anxiety over new medication or change of medication
  • easier to visit the hospital than the surgery
  • radio in background of waiting area increased anxiety
  • unable to attend for blood test as no childcare in lockdown

191 people told us what worked well about their appointment and what could have been better. Whilst many people had a good experience and felt their telephone or video consultation worked well, others would have liked better access to an appointment with their GP.

Some of the reasons people said their appointment had worked well included:

  • a phone call as first point of contact saved time for both GPs and patients
  • a better triage system
  • consultations were unhurried and thorough
  • quick and easy
  • quicker than normal response time
  • clear signs and instructions
  • 1 way system to enter and leave the surgery

Some of the reasons people said their appointment could have been better included:

  • face to face appointments must be available for people who need them
  • better transport options
  • no update from GP following appointment
  • complete shut down of GP care was too excessive
  • prefer to speak to own doctor
  • suitable shelter for people waiting outside for appointment
  • better communication, particularly around repeat prescriptions

293 people told us what changes to GP services they would like to see continued and which didn’t work well. We also asked for suggestions about additional changes. Many people would prefer face to face appointments. People are also happy to use e-consult, telephone and video appointments, but stress that face to face appointments should be available when this is needed.

Services to continue

  • Phone consultations.
  • Triage.
  • Video consultations.
  • Old online appointments and prescriptions service.
  • Local collection medication service.
  • Access to the requested GP.
  • Online access.
  • e-consult.
  • Face to face appointments.
  • Being able to access the doctor the same day.

Services to improve

  • Time to speak to a ‘clinician’.
  • Quicker e-consult service.
  • Pharmacy services.
  • Still need face to face appointments.
  • Consultant and specialist services should be more efficient.
  • More consultations about non-urgent procedures.
  • Organise phone appointments better.
  • Routine health checks should continue.
  • Admin staff and receptionists.
  • Availability of practice nurse appointments.
  • Receptionist questions becoming too intrusive.
  • Time to get through.
  • Better practice information.
  • Mental health ignored over physical issues.
  • Ability to see GP when needed.
  • Ongoing medication should be available more than 1 week at a time.
  • Information on websites.
  • e-Consult system could be simpler to use.
  • Better PPE for nursing staff.
  • Shouldn’t need to phone early in morning to get appointment.
  • Repeat prescriptions – 5 days is not always long enough.
  • Better follow up for ongoing condition.
  • Operation waiting times.

Service changes

  • 2-hour slots instead of 4-hour slots for GP call back.
  • Online typed chat for deaf people.
  • Give a definite time for phone calls.
  • Trained practitioners available for mental health issues.
  • Communication by email.
  • One GP dealing with non-COVID-19 every day.
  • Out-of-town facility with good parking.
  • Alternative to phone could be protective screen and 1 metre between patient and doctor.
  • Patient to decide if they want telephone appointment, not doctor.
  • All prescribing should be electronic and sent to the correct pharmacy.
  • Being able to have medication delivered.
  • Whole system needs to change
  • Some form of normal GP practice to resume
  • More phone lines into surgery
  • Would like Millbrook surgery to open again
  • Health staff should meet people outside their offices

265 people (almost half) told us they had avoided contacting their GP during the pandemic and almost half of those (125) said it was because they didn’t want to be a burden to the NHS. 15 people said they had not contacted a GP during the pandemic because there were unsure or unable to use technology, while 19 people said they were unsure how to access the new system in place.

106 people described ‘other’ reasons for not contacting their GP during the pandemic, including that they felt they weren’t allowed unless their condition was urgent or that they felt they would be a nuisance to staff.

125 said they avoided contacting their GP because they didn’t want to be a burden to the NHS.

Some of the reasons people gave for avoiding contacting their GP included:

  • difficulty navigating the system
  • no replacement service
  • desire to see a GP face to face
  • fear of catching coronavirus
  • did not wish to see available GP
  • had already lost confidence and trust in service
  • they felt their symptoms weren’t worrying enough or they self-managed an injury
  • online services not appropriate
  • did not want to use technology
  • felt all resources were aimed at COVID-19 so inappropriate to contact
  • didn’t want to go to hospital
  • would rather go when restrictions ease

492 people (83%) said that nothing had stopped or made it difficult for them to contact their GP about symptoms that could be linked to a serious condition, such as cancer. Where people had not made contact the main reasons people gave included that they felt that GP surgeries had closed their doors and couldn’t be accessed or because they knew they would only be offered a telephone or online appointment.

98 people (17%) described why they had found it difficult to contact their GP:

  • unable to get past reception staff
  • e-consult does not provide a time for a call back
  • sent in circles
  • sense that GPs were busy
  • dismissed as not important
  • staff not having appropriate PPE
  • no response to email
  • due to their depression
  • they felt chronic pain is not considered serious
  • fear of contracting coronavirus
  • unable to access as no routine appointments
  • unable to contact surgery
  • didn’t want to bother GP
  • shielding

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