Throughout the period of the COVID pandemic GP practices have been adapting to new ways of delivering care to patients and many of these changes will be with us for the foreseeable future. We are open and our GPs are dealing with around 450 patients per week in telephone appointments. The structure of our working day has been changed in order to provide more telephone appointments – particularly for patients who need to speak to a GP urgently. We are grateful for the way in which patients have co-operated with these changes and embraced these new ways of working:-
Telephone consultations – we have changed all appointments to telephone calls during the pandemic in order to reduce the footfall within the surgery building and to reduce the spread of infection between staff and patients. All patients must have a telephone consultation first before a GP can arrange to see you face to face and, even then, only if this is absolutely necessary. This system works well for most patients and, whilst many problems can be assessed over the telephone, we do have alternative means for seeing patients when necessary such as video links and the text messaging of photographs. The GP will set this up and explain how it works during your telephone call if required. Patients who do not have mobile telephones can be accommodated in other ways.
eConsults – accessible from our website these provide an excellent option for all patients and all problems. Click on the blue bar which says ‘Contact your doctors online’ and follow the prompts. The system is available 24hours a day 7 days a week and your query or problem will be dealt with by the end of the next working day. The series of questions which are presented to patients are clinically validated and enable the system to direct you to the most appropriate service. All the information you enter is sent to the practice via a secure portal. For those who require GP assessment the information you have entered is extremely helpful and often lets the GP see exactly what needs to be done before further contact is made. Administrative queries can also be directed through eConsults which means patients can send information or ask a question without having to wait until the surgery is open to make a telephone call.
Text messaging – whilst this was already in use prior to the pandemic the text messaging service we use is also enabling video conferencing and transfer of photographs through a secure portal between the GP and the patient. This is better than email and more secure. The GP will set this up and explain how it works during your telephone call.
Telephone reviews – our Practice Nurses have been telephoning asthmatic and diabetic patients to do annual reviews and this is working well. Those patients who require blood pressure monitoring are being encouraged to purchase their own BP machines so that readings can be taken at home and we have a small number of these which can be loaned to patients so that readings can be taken over a couple of days and sent back to the practice. Patients who require an annual blood test will be contacted once systems are in place for these to resume.
PPE – for those patients who cannot avoid a visit to the surgery for an examination or procedure, our clinical staff must now wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to minimise the transfer of infection. Masks, aprons and gloves will be worn for all face to face consultations and, for some procedures a visor or eye shield may also be necessary. All surfaces within the consultation room or treatment room will be cleaned down after each procedure. Patients will be asked to wait in their cars or out on the walkway before being escorted into the building by the clinician who will be wearing PPE and we ask that all patients come wearing a face covering. It is no longer safe to have patients congregating in the waiting room so we do ask that you arrive on time (not early) for your appointment and ring us on a mobile telephone if possible when you arrive. If you do not have access to a mobile phone, please come to the lobby area at the front door and the receptionist will greet you.
Blood Tests – only those blood tests which are clinically essential have been done during the pandemic, and for some patients, these have been done by community nurses at home. We do have a mechanism for checking whether any essential blood tests are due at this time and we will contact patients to make arrangements when necessary.
Prescriptions – the system for ordering prescriptions has remained the same throughout the pandemic, with supplies limited to 28 days at a time for most medications. Some items have been difficult to supply and may have been switched for equivalent alternatives when necessary. Most non-dispensing patients have their prescriptions sent electronically to their nominated pharmacy which reduces the number of people visiting the surgery and we are grateful for patients’ co-operation with this.
Dispensary service – our dispensary has remained open throughout the pandemic but patients who come to collect medication are asked to wait in the surgery lobby where they will be greeted by a member of our dispensing staff. Prescription payments should, where possible, be made by card using the contactless service. Teams of volunteers from outlying areas have been collecting medications for some vulnerable patients are we are very grateful for this.
Vaccinations and injections – most childhood immunisations have continued to be administered through the pandemic but those for older patients such as shingles vaccinations and B12 injections have been stopped in order to prevent unnecessary trips to the surgery. For patients on B12 injections who remain well we advise that these are postponed for the next few months but if this is causing any patients to feel unwell we will make arrangements to have these done either here at the surgery or at home.
Out of Area patients – We are asking all Out of Area patients to re-register with practices closer to home – letters have been sent to most patients affected by this. We feel this is clinically safer for all patients and much more appropriate for those who are shielding or self isolating. A number of patients have been contacted by our receptionists over the last few weeks to check their address and contact details. Under our new ways of working it is essential that we have accurate and up to date contact details for all patients. The wider NHS relies on the GP database for this information and inaccuracies can lead to missed phone calls, hospital appointments and services such as ambulances or community nurses being sent to the wrong address. Please ensure that we have the correct information for you.