Five of Norfolk’s GP surgeries see less than half of their patients face-to-face, new figures show.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a change in the way people receive health care and has resulted in more and more appointments being made virtually, either by phone or via video calls.
And while overall 75% of all appointments in Norfolk are now face-to-face, the figures show that five surgeries are still more reliant on remote appointments.
These surgeries are:
- Thorpewood Surgery, Thorpe St Andrew (36.5pc face to face)
- Stalham Stathe Surgery (39 face-to-face pieces)
- Oak Street Medical Practice, Norwich (40 face-to-face pieces)
- Lawson Road Surgery, Norwich (48pc face to face)
- Lakenham Surgery (48 face-to-face pieces)
However, while Thorpewood Surgery had the lowest percentage of face-to-face in-person appointments, staff made more home visits than any other over the course of October: 220.
The figure has raised concerns at Age UK Norwich, with charity heads worrying that older members of the population may struggle with remote access.
Dan Skipper, chief executive of the charity, said: “As GPs are on the front line of support, having regular and easy access is critical to keeping people safe, independent and reducing the risk of crises and unnecessary deterioration of health.
“When we conducted research in 2021, 66% of people rated their doctor’s support positively, but 14% reported it negatively.
“This was mainly the 75+ age group, who found using online systems challenging.
“By 2040, Norfolk and Waveney’s population aged 65+ will be nearly a quarter million and we will have one of the oldest demographics in the country, so we need to make sure our health and social care systems adapt. and proactively support the population.”
Through October 2022, 689,573 appointments were fulfilled through GP practices, of which 75.7% were face-to-face. The national average for this is 71.3pc.
Of the 105 practices in the region, 72 saw a percentage greater than this national average.
There are also three surgeries, Great Massingham, Hingham and the University of East Anglia, which have 99% more of their appointments face to face.
Sadie Parker, Director of Primary Care at NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: “The recent release of practice-level citation data highlights some of the variations in the way patients access general practice.
“There will always be variations in appointments among GPs as they will tailor their service delivery to meet the needs and preferences of their patients.
“One practice may offer more in-person appointments, while another provides more online consultations that the data doesn’t account for.
“The data also does not take into account factors such as surgical branches, differences in patient list sizes, skill combinations available in each practice, and the reason for appointments.
“Therefore, these data should not be used to draw conclusions about the quality of practice or patient care.”
Alex Stewart, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: “We appreciate the transparency that allows patients access to data about their care, including the option to view appointment figures.
“It is important that these figures are seen in context because they only take into account data captured in GP surgery booking systems and some patients are also seen by experienced medical staff who are not GPs.
“When talking to patients in Norfolk, the issue of GPS face-to-face appointments comes up quite a bit, as many feel they don’t have the same opportunities to see them as they did before the pandemic.
“We feel practices need more support to explain how they work post-Covid.
“Some are doing this very well through liaison with patients and sharing with the broader community that an initial approach is evaluated over the phone or email and passed on to the best person to help.”
Analysis by David Hannant
Clearly, the Covid-19 pandemic was always going to leave a lasting legacy on the healthcare system, which was already under increasing pressure before the virus hit.
One thing that stems from this is the way it has imposed remote ways of working in almost all walks of life, and primary care is no different.
It is a debate that can be posed in various ways and it would be naive and unsophisticated to consider all face-to-face appointments good and all remote appointments bad.
What is vitally important is to ensure that the appropriate means of communication are used.
Some scenarios are not suitable for remote access; sometimes you need your GP to be able to see and feel something so they know how to treat it properly.
But if using remote access can mean serving more people, then it’s foolish to dismiss the media altogether.
Clearly, there is a convenience that comes with a face-to-face appointment and it should be the first option available to a patient.
But it’s also a good thing that remote access is readily available, and in many scenarios, it may be easier or more convenient.
However, the key is that it is not used as a one-size-fits-all approach.
What is abundantly clear is that GPs are facing a level of demand that they have not experienced before and are expected to work in different ways.
If access to care is becoming more flexible and patients have a greater degree of choice, that can only be a good thing.
What cannot happen is GPs hiding behind remote access, but the evidence in Norfolk shows that this is not happening.