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Devon GP's remote consultations here to stay

Thursday, July 29th, 2021 7:39am

By Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

The doctor will see you on the phone (courtesy: Online Marketing/Unsplash)

But face-to-face appointments returning

As GP practices in Devon work to manage their response to the pandemic and try to return to normal, the region’s NHS says almost 60 per cent of GP appointments in the county are now face-to-face. 

At the height of the pandemic, such appointments in GP practices in the NHS Devon clinical commissioning group (CCG) fell to 52 per cent in April 2020, compared with 78 per cent in October 2019.

The details were revealed to the health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee of Plymouth City Council on Wednesday. 

Presenting a report to councillors, Jo Turl, director of commissioning for Devon CCG, thanked GPs for: “the significant work that general practice has undertaken over the past 18 months, particularly in response to the pandemic and, obviously more latterly, the vaccination effort.”

Although there is still some way to go to return to pre-pandemic levels of attendance at GP surgeries, latest data suggests the figure in Devon was eight per cent higher than the national average for face-to-face appointments. 

NHS Devon CCG said Devon leads the way nationally on embracing new technology and prior to the pandemic GP practices were already well-advanced in using online consultations such as ‘eConsult’ and telephone triage.  Ms Turl said that trend is likely to continue because: “It will also be about people accessing services in a different way.”

Ms Turl added that Devon patients rated local GP practices highly in a national GP Patient Survey. 88 per cent of patients said they had a good experience with their GP and more than 9 out of 10 people found the receptionist helpful. 

The data, collected between November 2020 and March 2021, is from a report submitted to the CCG’s quality assurance committee by Healthwatch Devon, Plymouth and Torbay. 

Dr Alex Degan, GP and primary care medical director for Devon, told the scrutiny committee about the difficulties faced by GPs during the pandemic.  

“It’s certainly been a challenging 18 months for all the NHS and the challenges have been slightly different at different times during the pandemic.”

Dr Degan suggested that some measures taken by GPs may have been more extreme than necessary.  

“My personal view is that at the beginning of the pandemic it probably went too far,” he said.

“We weren’t seeing as many face-to-face patients as we should have done – for completely understandable and correct reasons.”

But he said GPs could benefit from many of the new systems that were introduced since.

“I’m not sure that going back to the percentage of face-to-face appointments two years ago is the right thing to do. I think we need to find that equilibrium and It probably sits somewhere in the middle.”

NHS Devon CCG added that managing the challenges of covid have been carried out in addition to the day-to-day care GP practices provided to patients and local communities. 

The report found that while patients had reported concerns about GP access for a range of practices across Devon, these were small in numbers and generally averaged one report per practice.  

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