Working Together to Improve GP Access

By working together with patients, GPs and the NHS, we are helping tackle the widespread concerns voiced by patients about accessing GP services since the pandemic.
Stethoscope with medication, masks and gloves

Background 

Our independent role and strong reputation for sharing patient feedback meant we were invited to chair a meeting in late 2021, where 75 local residents discussed GP access issues. This was an opportunity for patients to voice their concerns, while GPs and NHS representatives also spoke about the everyday challenges they were facing.

Feedback from patients

  • The consensus was that any changes in providing GP services need to benefit patients, as well as GPs and their staff.
  • Patients felt that GP surgeries should be more consistent in terms of how they operate, how people access them and the availability of different types of appointments.
  • It was also agreed that new ways of working need to be communicated clearly and provide accessibility for everyone.
  • Linked to this, patients stressed the importance of not excluding particular groups through digitalisation.
  • It was strongly felt that accessing GP services needs to be a fair system for all, and for this to happen patients need to have a variety of access options.
  • A repeated key point was ‘Tell patients what to expect’ so they feel less exasperated.

The GP perspective

  • Requests for GP consultations increased by a huge amount in late 2021 due to pent up demand during the pandemic.
  • GPs can now provide a huge number of same day appointments - much higher than pre-pandemic levels - although many of these are phone/video.
  • Some practices are seeing more people than others, although they should all be offering a standard level of care. If a patient needs to be seen, they will be seen based on a clinician’s decision.
  • There is a need to avoid crowded waiting rooms and clean between patient consultations, to keep patients and staff safe. If a consultation can be done via telephone/video this could be safer, quicker and more convenient for you.
  • Patients might also be given an appointment with a different professional at the practice (rather than a GP), if this is the best person to help you – eg: a nurse, paramedic, pharmacist, healthcare assistant or physiotherapist.
  • If people feel they have ongoing problems with the GP surgery, then the patient should begin a complaint process with the surgery.

Feedback to Hertfordshire Health Scrutiny 

Additionally, in October, we made a submission to Hertfordshire County Council’s GP Access Scrutiny Group to make them aware of the feedback we had received from patients. The Scrutiny group will make recommendations based on the evidence presented and we will keep you updated on how this progresses.

What to do if you can't get a GP appointment

In an emergency, call 999 immediately.

If you have an urgent medical issue, call 111 or visit NHS 111 online. NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If your health concern is non-urgent, a minor illness or a question about medication, you can speak to your local pharmacist. Pharmacists are qualified specialists, who can advise on a range of common illnesses and help assess whether your health issue requires further medical help. Most pharmacies have a consultation room where you can talk in private.

Help with making a complaint or navigating the system 

Although there are some positive steps being made to try and resolve these issues, we know there is still a lot of access issues and frustration for the public.

If you are having problems accessing your GP or have other concerns, here is information about how you can make a complaint.

You can also contact our Signposting team to discuss alternative services that might be available, or we will listen to your feedback and take it to providers to try and improve things. Just complete our Signposting Feedback Form or phone us on 01707 275978, and we’ll get in touch with you as soon as we can.

This is clearly a very stressful time for everyone - GPs are working harder than ever and patients are facing huge difficulties trying to access services. Sadly there are no quick fixes, but we will continue to provide feedback about people’s experiences and work to help the system respond and improve.
— Geoff Brown, Healthwatch Hertfordshire Chief Executive

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Tell us about your experiences

Take just 5 minutes to tell us about your experience of health and/or social care services to help the NHS know what worked, and what could be improved.

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