Demand at Herts Valley GPs closer to pre-pandemic levels

Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group serves Dacorum, St Albans, Harpenden, Hertsmere, Watford and Three Rivers

Thursday, 6th August 2020, 11:50 am

Demand at GP surgeries in Herts Valley jumped in June, with activity closer to pre-coronavirus levels, according to NHS Digital.

Data shows patients booked 190,698 appointments with practices in the NHS Herts Valley CCG area in June – 23 per cent more than in May.

While this was still 14 per cent fewer than during the previous June, demand in May was down by 32 per cent year-on-year.

Demand at Herts Valley GPs closer to pre-pandemic levels

The picture was similar across England as a whole, where 20.6 million appointments were made in June – 4.3 million more than in May.

It means appointments in June were 11 per cent lower compared to a year ago, while in May they had been down by 33 per cent.

The Patients Association welcomed the rising numbers of people accessing their local doctor across England but warned continuing use of remote sessions must not become "the new normal” without assessing the benefits to patients.

The NHS cautions that changes in how practices operate during the pandemic may have affected the figures, with remote consultations underreported.

The Royal College of GPs says demand at surgeries could soon surpass pre-crisis levels as people feel more confident accessing services.

Chairman Professor Martin Marshall said: “As normal services begin to resume, general practice will be at the forefront of dealing with the health consequences of the pandemic, as well as continuing to deliver routine GP services and an expanded flu vaccination programme and prepare for a potential second wave of Covid-19.

"It is essential that GPs and their teams have the necessary guidance, resources, and workforce capacity to manage these new challenges and continue to deliver good-quality care to patients.”

In Herts Valley, 55 per cent of sessions were completed over the phone in June, up from just 13 per cent a year ago.

Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group is pleased to see more people accessing services.

A Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group spokesperson said: “While face-to-face appointments are still available where needed, to help keep people safe our GP practices are offering telephone and video appointments in the first instance.

“We’re glad to see that more people are accessing services as it’s important people contact their GP if they need care.

"Virtual appointments give the same level of care but make this a quicker and easier process, and have been welcomed by many of our patients.

“Patients will continue to be supported with the best service for their needs and circumstances, whether face-to-face, telephone, or video, with their safety in mind at all times.”

Nationally, 48 per cent of sessions were conducted over the phone, compared to 13 per cent last year.

In a recent speech to the Royal College of Physicians, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the switch to more remote consultations had been “hugely positive”.

He called for all sessions to be done remotely unless there is a "compelling clinical reason not to”.

Prof Marshall said a recent survey of RCGP members found 70 per cent of respondents thought telephone consultations increase efficiency.

He added: "However, many patients – and GPs – prefer face-to-face consultations, particularly for patients with complex health needs.

"We need to strike a balance and be able to offer patients a range of access options to GP services to suit their needs and preferences."

An NHS spokesman said: “GPs have had to adjust the way they work to protect people from the risk of the virus – remote consultations offer a convenient, safe option for patients to access care in addition to face-to-face appointments."