Walking into surgeries last year we had patients with COVID, patients without masks and vulnerable or unvaccinated patients. Queuing indoors was not safe. We used our intercom to manage this. As vaccinations increase and rates decrease, we have returned to open doors.
You can’t now simply request to see a GP. One reason for this is the idea of ‘triage’. The work GPs are expected to do has increased far beyond funding and staffing. New specialist roles have been introduced to help, such as Nurse Practitioners, Physician Associate, Nurse Associate, Clinical Pharmacists, Social Prescribers, medical admin staff. Receptionists are now trained to take down the relevant details and gather enough information for the GP to assess. New services have also developed such as eye units and minor injuries units. GPs have a unique role within all this, often where there is medical complexity.
We can’t expect patients to navigate these complicated options alone. If we know a bit about your problem, we can direct you to the best person to help you. This means that when you have a problem only a GP can manage, this can happen. We recognise that this change is uncomfortable for everyone. GPs prefer a mixture. But meeting everyone’s needs is more important.
Our GPs have worked face to face throughout the pandemic. After talking on the phone, they would see anyone where they judged that the benefits outweighed the risks. There are incredibly sad stories nationally where it was felt important signs where missed. There will also be unknown numbers of lives that were saved by these precautions. As the risks of COVID transmission vary, we vary the threshold for our face to face appointments accordingly. The risks are now less, but remain significant.
Most patients and clinicians prefer face to face communication. Underfunding of General Practice requires us to find ways to improve efficiencies that retain high quality care. There are occasions when the phone is both effective, efficient and safe. Every day, we are forced to make intensely challenging decisions about how we support each individual, whilst managing the needs of all our patients. No GP would have chosen the situation we find ourselves in.
Whilst less visible, GPs are delivering more appointments than ever. Triaging patients to the most appropriate person may feel restrictive, but it makes sure we’re available when you need us. This year we won’t have got everything right. Changes may have felt confusing and frustrating. Communication can be improved. But we care enormously for our patients. At times, the very changes that feel unwelcome are happening because of the deep care that General Practice has for all its patients.
As double vaccinated people no longer have to self-isolate if they come into contact with a person who has had a positive covid test, masks will still have to be worn by every patient using our surgery. This is because many of our patients, despite also being double vaccinated, are still at risk from complications of catching any virus. People can choose not to mix with others in a restaurant or bar, but they do have to visit their GP surgery. We need to keep it safe for the vulnerable.