GP practices were under pressure both nationally and locally before the Covid-19 pandemic and are now under even more pressure to meet Covid and non-Covid related demand from patients.
During the pandemic, following NHS guidelines, GP practices had to adapt the way they provided services, moving to a total triage system or redirecting patients to more appropriate services such as NHS 111 to keep both patients and staff safe. The new changes have worked well for some patients who can speak to a GP by phone rather than travelling to the practice or taking time off work, and many Bexley residents are satisfied with the new systems and care they have received. Others have experienced problems accessing their GP, telling us their practice was not fully open or seeing patients face to face. They reported having problems getting through on the phones, getting appointments or using online consultation platforms.
The suddenness of the pandemic has meant that changes to accessing GP practices happened rapidly, without any public consultation and with little communication about the changes. As a result, some patients have been unsure about how to access their GP and may have avoided seeking help or delaying treatment. Residents told us they were frustrated and often unhappy with the options available for them to book an appointment or contact their practice preferring more traditional ways, such as seeing a GP face to face.
More communication is needed at a national and local level to increase awareness of the ways patients can access primary care and to increase understanding of the pressure primary care is under trying to meet demand.