Many of us have used new technology during the lockdown and this has created both opportunity and problems, including - according to some - a lack of communication.
One of the organisations that has gone in a new direction for the first time is Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, which held its first online meeting via Zoom last Thursday for the public and partner organisations, including the North West Anglia Foundation Trust.
The independent organisation for people who use health and social care services works with several partners to make sure services are being run efficiently.
One discussion point brought up by HealthWatch user Gordon was the issue of a lack of communication on re-booking routine check-ups with their local GP. He added that a general message on this service from authorities would be appreciated.
Members attending said some of them require regular check-ups - yearly or half–yearly. But these had been cancelled due to the pandemic and patients haven’t heard back on when the rescheduling of appointments is likely to start.
Another member on the online meeting echoed the same view and added that perhaps people are nervous to go back into the surgery, and that some people are holding back, not wanting to add extra burden to the doctors. They said there was a consensus that people feel someone else might need that appointment instead.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, GP surgeries in the city have had to adapt to a new way of working, mainly doing telephone and video consultations to keep patients and staff safe. However, some people have argued, because GP surgeries were not seeing any patients face to face, they had an easy job during the pandemic.
One Peterborough GP, Toseef Sethi, who is also a partner at Central Medical Centre in Lincoln Road which looks after 13,000 patients, shared his views regarding the concerns raised.
He is urging people to contact their GP if they are in need of medical assistance and not delay it due to the pandemic. Dr Sethi also rubbished criticism of GPs having less work. Instead, he said it has brought new challenges .
Dr Sethi said: “I am surprised to learn that people are having these concerns. I think if there is any issue, you can get in touch with your surgery, despite the lockdown.
“We did see a drop in number of people visiting the surgery initially - I think it’s a combination of factors. People are nervous to go and see their GP.
“We are actively contacting people to have a discussion on whether or not they need to come in to the surgery. At times, they have been reluctant.
“I speak for only my surgery, so all through the lockdown, we have had to weigh up risks for the patients and act accordingly. For example, if someone is vulnerable but needs to get their medical treatment or a blood test we weighed their risk of missing out on this crucial injection against them visiting the surgery in fear of catching infection. So it’s been difficult as every patient is different.
“But, I can assure people, if they are due a check-up or have any issues they should call their surgery and book an appointment. We are still doing face-face appointments, if they are essential.
“And I am also surprised to learn that people think GPs are having it easy. We appreciate that frontline doctors are facing the biggest challenge. GPs are also having a very stressful time because we have had to change the way we work. More remote consultations are making diagnosis even more challenging.
“The other issue is language when doing online consultations. Sometimes we get patients, because of our demographic, that don’t speak English. Or for example, for deaf patients, a three-way consultation with a sign language interpreter is needed.
“So It has just added to our challenges and I would prefer to do face-face consultations any day.
“We are taking each week as it comes, guided by the national picture and medical advice. However, going forward I can’t tell you what the picture will be like or how the surgeries will operate. There's much uncertainty, and I don’t think we can tell people any more about the current situation as we ourselves are quite uncertain about the future.”
Caroline Tyrrell-Jones, from Healthwatch group, replied to the concerns during the meeting and said: “Communication is important. It is being discussed at the county hub. There is capacity now to resume testing appointments back at surgeries. However, there will be more updates on this shortly.”