Local GP practices facing demand surge, East Riding Council’s Health, Care and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee told
East Riding GP practices are facing a demand surge while returning to “near normal” service levels amid concerns some could be left out by moves to more digital appointments.
East Riding Council’s Health, Care and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee heard the NHS aimed to continue using more virtual appointments to free up GPs as patients return to practices.
Council adult services lead Lee Thompson told the committee a pilot ‘digital hub’ had also been set up in Bridlington where patients could go for help with virtual appointments.
But councillors said residents, particularly the elderly, still struggled with online appointments and were facing lengthy waits while phoning practices and queues when attending in person.
It comes as a report submitted to the committee stated GP appointments rose nationally by three million year-on-year by March.
The report also stated there were “huge backlogs” in those waiting to be seen in outpatient clinics closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
It added NHS officials looking at more video appointments as one way to help clear them.
Dr Anne Jeffreys, chair of the East Yorkshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), told councillors demand was currently higher than the week before Christmas, typically practices’ busiest period.
She added that having small practice waiting rooms not designed for coronavirus social distancing was leading to queues.
The chair also said while GP numbers where stable, more had begun seeking early retirement after an “exhausting” pandemic and replacing them could become an issue in years to come.
Dr Jefferys said: “Demand at the moment is the highest it’s ever been and we’re well aware of problems with waits for patients phoning practices.
“I tell patients not to ring at 8am on a Monday morning because there could be more than 100 phoning at the same time.
“I encourage them to call at 11am on Tuesday when it’s quieter and also not to hang up because their symptoms won’t go away.
“The majority of patients still contact us by phone, and if they need a face to face appointment then we will see them and we won’t turn people away.
“The pandemic has changed everything, we now need to cope with the backlog and that will be a huge task, the stress is just beginning and we’re seeing that come through.”
CCG Integrated and Commissioning and Transformation Director Tracey Craggs said officials were aware of “high levels” of digital exclusion in parts of the East Riding as virtual appointment use rises.
Ms Craggs said: “We need to accelerate the return to near normal levels of non-coronavirus health services by making best use of our capacity between now and winter.
“We’re also learning lessons from the first coronavirus peak to see how we can manage demand pressures, support staff and tackle health inequalities.
“It’s important to remember that the last year has been like no other, we’re still not out of the pandemic and it’s not clear when we will be.
“Practices are facing unprecedented demand as they catch up with routine checks, work on the vaccination rollout and face huge waiting lists for hospital procedures.”
Mr Thompson said the council’s digital hub pilot could be rolled out to other parts of the East Riding if successful.
But he added getting patients to agree to it was a “barrier” as many wanted to see their GP face to face.
The officer said: “We’ve had a £200,000 grant to enable us to buy the equipment for the project that we’ve been working on for a number of weeks.
“We’re working with three surgeries and staff at Bridlington Town Hall are there to help patients use tablets and other equipment so they can log on and see their GP.”