GPs across the Island continue to offer a mix of in-person and telephone appointments in line with an agreed approach to keep patients, staff and the wider public healthy and safe.
Practices currently follow a standard operating procedure which has been jointly developed by the GPs and the Department of Health and Social Care. Patients are asked a number of questions when they call, to determine if they are high or low risk and thus whether any measures need to be put in place if they are invited to the surgery. The GP will then speak with the patient on the phone, to decide if they need to be seen in person or whether a telephone consultation is the best option.
This approach was established during the pandemic and is now embedded across practices, to maintain vigilance against the risk of coronavirus. Additionally, the mix of appointments has resulted in patients who need to be seen in person being seen more quickly than previously.
Health and Social Care Minister David Ashford said:
‘By making a decision about whether a patient needs to be seen or should have a phone consultation, GPs are doing what we have asked of them. It is not about minimising the numbers coming to the surgery, it is about allocating each patient the most appropriate appointment and protecting those who may not be in the best of health. And it helps ensure that patients who need to be seen by a GP can do so.
‘The effect of this in some practices has been impressive. Ramsey Group Practice for example has moved from a position where a patient might have to wait several weeks for a routine appointment to the current position where one is normally provided within four days. I know there is variation between practices in the proportion of patients seen face to face, but I am satisfied that all our practices are operating within agreed guidelines. I can also offer an assurance that where there is any doubt, the patient will be invited to come in.’
‘We want to keep our patients safe and well during the winter months when there are more colds, coughs and cases of flu about – so with seasonal illnesses an added factor, it makes sense to reduce the chances of infection of any kind being passed on at surgeries.’
Discussions have taken place with each GP practice on the Island and the department continues to monitor patient access across all practices. Recently, the department were present at a forum with some of the partners from Ramsey Group Practice, local MHKs, Mr Allan Bell and members of the community, to discuss concerns raised about patients not seeing their doctor in person.
The practice confirmed that as a result of changes made to their system during the Covid period, the practice now has more daily contacts with patients than before. As well as offering longer face to face appointments than most other practices, the GPs continue to make a significant number of home visits, including seeing patients who are self-isolating. Phone consultations with those who don’t need to be seen face-to-face are available on the day or can be pre-booked at a time to suit the patient.
Dr May Shiu Chan, Senior Partner of Ramsey Group Practice confirmed:
‘This has been a difficult time for us. The majority of patients have been incredibly supportive and appreciate that the practice has made changes both to prevent the spread of disease during the winter period, and to ensure those patients who need to be seen can be. However, a small number of patients have taken their frustrations out on staff at the practice and some of their family members, causing much distress, as our team puts in maximum effort to ensure that optimum care of our patients.
‘We are concerned that inaccurate social media posts have given the impression that the practice is not seeing patients. This has been very damaging for our practice, our staff and our patients. That is not the case, and has never been the case. It is really important that our patients know we are here for them. If they have a medical problem that they wish to talk to a clinician about, they should call us and we will ensure an appropriate appointment is booked. Hopefully, following the recent meeting with the Department, MHKs and Mr Bell, we have quashed the media inaccuracies, and we can concentrate all our efforts on looking after our patients.’
In addition, Ramsey Group Practice assures patients it will continue to seek a solution to ongoing difficulties with its telephone system, which can affect patients calling at busy times. The surgery is part of the Government phone system, and the department is working with the practice to help resolve the problem. In the meantime patients are asked to be aware of the difficulties and that phones will be answered as soon as they can.