Herts GPs switch to '150-year-old technology' to care for patients during coronavirus lockdown
GP surgeries in Herts, as throughout the country, have had to transform the way they work in just three weeks to try to limit the spread of coronavirus, while still caring for their patients..
Though Hertfordshire is one of the two thirds of NHS commissioning areas that does not use video link appointments, the county generally has a relatively high number of phone consultations.
Nonetheless, data shows that in the year before lockdown, around 77% of all appointments in Hertfordshire were carried out face-to-face, either at a surgery or via a home visit.
Across the whole of the UK less than 1% of GP appointments were carried out using video-link in 2019, while 80% took place in person.
But the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) says that has been turned on its head following government guidance.
Face-to-face contact with a GP is now making up 7% of all contact nationwide, RCGP's chairman said, as he praised the profession's "remarkable "response.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of RCGP said: "Most of the consultations are taking place on the telephone rather than video link.
"People are pretty happy with doing assessments over the phone and they are proving effective - who would have thought this 150-year-old technology would still be just as useful today?"
He added that there were occasions where a video appointment was beneficial, particularly in the case of assessing skin rashes. But with people able to email in pictures of the affected area, he said phone calls have been used in around 90% of cases.
"The big question is which elements do we want to embed in our practices in the future?" Professor Marshall continued.
"I don't see us doing all of our consultations over the phone or online, but certainly up to 50% is possible,” he said.
Concerns have been raised that people who may not have access to smartphones or a computer, will be excluded from seeing their GP during the crisis.
Age UK has urged doctors not to drop home visits and to seek out vulnerable patients "proactively".
Senior health influencing manager at the Age UK, Tom Gentry, said: "Surgeries have a lot of information at their disposal. Using that, they need to make active care plans for people to enable them to feel supported.
"It's about not waiting for people to deteriorate and it's about reaching out to them first."
Mr Gentry added that surgeries should also not discount the use of home visits, providing adequate precautions are taken.
"No one should be told outright that they should not be visited in their own home," he said.