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Shift in way people access GPs is leaving vulnerable behind: Healthwatch report

Shift in way people access GPs, has left behind elderly people, disabled people, those on low incomes and those whose first language isn’t English, says new Healthwatch report.
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Shift in way people access GPs is leaving vulnerable behind says new Healthwatch report

People across Peterborough are being asked to give their views on GP services after a national report highlighted how Covid has affected access to care with local doctors.  

The way people access their GP services has shifted because of the Covid-19 pandemic - and while the move to online bookings, video and phone consultations has kept services running, tens of thousands of people across England have struggled to contact or see a local doctor over the last year.  

This comes as a new report from health and care champion Healthwatch England highlights the experiences of 200,000 people, including those in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.  

And it shows that while some people have continued to have positive experiences of accessing care from their GP surgery, the switch to digital has created problems for older patients, disabled people, those affected by homelessness and on low incomes, and people whose first language isn’t English.  

A national review of GP access arrangements is now being called for as the country rebuilds after Covid-19.  

Key findings of the Healthwatch England report include:  

  • Lack of consistent and accurate information on GP websites about changes to service meant people were unsure whether they were able to access care from their GP because of COVID-19 restrictions.  
  • An increase in people having difficulties in booking GP appointments, including regular health check-ups and treatments, such as vitamin B12 jabs.  
  • A lack of choice over types of appointments, especially for those who felt they needed face-to-face appointments, left some people worried their health issues were not accurately diagnosed.  
  • Consistent reports of homeless people being inappropriately asked for identification and proof of address when trying to register with their GP practice, leading to health issues remaining undiagnosed.  
  • Some elderly patients were advised to go online to book their flu vaccinations or order prescriptions without checking first whether it’s a realistic option for them.   

Healthwatch Peterborough is our area’s independent health and social care champion and makes sure that people are at the heart of care.  

It listens to what people like about local health and social care services, and what could be improved. These views are then shared with the decision-making organisations, so together a real difference can be made.  

One patient said: "I was treated by mental health services for anxiety and was advised to call my GP for a medication review if I felt that I needed more or less of the medication they prescribed. When I called the surgery, I spoke to a practitioner who proceeded to tell me that everyone is struggling with anxiety at the moment and that I should "put on my big pants" and get on with things, just like the practitioner's relative had done when they were depressed.  

“Although I have other complex health conditions, I don't ask for help much and now feel that my concerns are not valid and I am not worth bothering about. I am on a waiting list for further treatment."  

Another said: "Poor communication and an inability to send a prescription electronically forced us out of self-isolation. A family member called the GP who did not call back until after 6pm. They were then unable to send the prescription electronically to the local pharmacy.  

“We had to go via NHS 111 and the prescription was eventually sent to a different pharmacy. We had to break our isolation to go and get it which we did just before the pharmacy closed."  

Another patient has highlighted issues of not being able to get through the reception quickly. They explained: "When contacting the practice for a repeat prescription the line is constantly engaged. After an hour I got through, however there was talking in the background about patients. I was then cut off when I spoke. I then rang back but was then put back in the queue for 10 people. As this was an urgent prescription, I then had no choice but to go to the surgery." 

Despite the challenging experiences faced by some patients, Healthwatch also received positive feedback from few members of public. 

One person from Peterborough said: "A visit to the GP ended up with needing to see someone at the hospital. Peterborough Hospital sent a letter about the appointment and what to expect and who to call for any questions to be answered. An appointment was then made for the surgery this coming week. It has all worked really well.” 

Healthwatch has invited more people to get in touch and share their views and feedback. 

You can do so online or call Healthwatch on 0330 355 1285.