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 Cambridgeshire told us
The views of people in our local area have been included in the report.
You shared poor experiences ...
"I have had a number of issues contacting my GP through lock down. I feel the default to online consultation/texting and emailing photos is not ideal in every instance. I can only access my GP by ringing up and hoping to get an appointment on the day which is not always possible and not necessarily appropriate for things like medication reviews etc. Generally I would say if and when you get to speak with medical professionals the care is good but getting access to them is a nightmare."
- Huntingdonshire patient
"It's very difficult to get an appointment at the surgery. There is about a six week wait for pre-bookable appointments. This is very difficult when you are working."
- Fenland patient
"There is no consistency in care for my partner from the surgery. My partner has a life limiting condition and is requiring regular antibiotic treatment. The ones prescribed aren't touching anything - the infection remains. But no one will listen or change the treatment. They say it is for the hospital to tell them what to prescribe - or worse still, they ask me what my partner needs. I can't speak to the same doctor twice running - it's one locum or another. This is really frustrating and I am left making decisions about treatment, medication and care without proper support."
- Cambridge patient
And positive feedback ...
"Service is excellent, well organised, quick, good use of nurses, nurse practitioner, pharmacist."
- South Cambs patient
"My family and I have had such a good service from the GP surgery. On two separate occasions, we have been able to send photographs of our concerns to the surgery. On both of these, a doctor has called us back and discussed a treatment plan and prescribed treatment for us. There was also the reassurance of the offer of a face to face appointment if required."
- Huntingdonshire patient