And a new report, from Healthwatch England, shows that the move towards remote appointments and video consultations left tens of thousands struggling to contact or see their local doctor in the last year.
Although some think the changes to GP services have made it quicker and easier to get care, certain groups are at risk of being left behind.
These include older people, disabled people, those affected by homelessness and on low incomes, and those whose first language isn’t English.
The report, GP access during Covid-19, published on Monday, draws on the experiences of almost 200,000 people across England who shared their views with Heathwatch between April 2019 and December 2020.
The data includes the experiences of people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and looked at areas such as how service changes due to the pandemic were communicated to people; problems booking appointments; and access to regular treatment and medication.
What should happen now
The report calls on NHS England to formally review GP services to make sure they work for everyone.
It says access to GP services has been a long-standing issue for many people and the pandemic has made these problems worse.
It highlights that GPs have faced significant challenges to safely deliver an effective service during the COVID-19 pandemic. So where people’s experiences of accessing care have improved, the positives should be embedded permanently in the system.
In addition, the report makes recommendations for GP practices, including
- providing updated information about how the practice/surgery has changed or altered the way it delivers its services during the COVID-19 pandemic
- use consistent messaging throughout their communication channels to inform their patients about the vaccination programme and how to access it.
- offer patients a choice over the type of appointments they would prefer (eg. video, face to face, home visit)
- provide support and reasonable adjustments for people, especially relating to communication methods and accessible information.
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What people in Peterborough told us
The views of people in our local area have been included in the report.
You shared poor experiences ...
"I was treated by mental health services for anxiety and was advised to call my GP for a medication review if I felt that I needed more or less of the medication they prescribed. When I called the surgery, I spoke to a practitioner who proceeded to tell me that everyone is struggling with anxiety at the moment and that I should "put on my big pants" and get on with things, just like the practitioner's relative had done when they were depressed. Although I have other complex health conditions I don't ask for help much and now feel that my concerns are not valid and I am not worth bothering about. I am on a waiting list for further treatment."
"Poor communication and an inability to send a prescription electronically forced us out of self isolation. A family member called the GP who did not call back until after 6pm. They were then unable to send the prescription electronically to the local pharmacy. We had to go via NHS 111 and the prescription was eventually sent to a different pharmacy. We had to break our isolation to go and get it which we did just before the pharmacy closed."
"I am able to order repeat prescriptions online for myself but not for my child. I still have to go into the surgery to do this. They are not old enough to have an online account but there doesn't seem to be any other way of ordering their prescriptions other than physically going to the surgery which we are advised not to do."
"When contacting the practice for a repeat prescription the line is constantly engaged. After an hour I got through, however there was talking in the background about patients. I was then cut off when I spoke. I then rang back but was then put back in the queue for 10 people. As this was an urgent prescription I then had no choice but to go to the surgery."
And positive feedback ...
"A visit to the GP ended up with needing to see someone at the hospital. Peterborough Hospital sent a letter about the appointment and what to expect and who to call for any questions to be answered. An appointment was then made for the surgery this coming week. It has all worked really well."