Shropshire Star

Huge fall in GP appointments during Covid-19 crisis as surgeries adapt

Doctors appointments fell by thousands in April due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but a GP has said numbers have started to bounce back.

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There has been a significant fall in the number of GP appointment during the Covid-19 pandemic

With empty waiting rooms most appointments in Shropshire are now being carried out by telephone, or by using video calls.

The change has been a result of the restrictions imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of life, with notoriously busy GPs surgeries seeing a fall in patient visits for the first time in years.

Across the county tens of thousands fewer appointments were recorded in April as the pandemic took hold.

NHS Digital data shows that patients booked in to see their doctor on 93,641 occasions in the NHS Shropshire CCG area in April.

This was down from 143,051 for the same month a year before – a 35 per cent drop.

For Telford & Wrekin the number also fell by 35 per cent – from 74,878 to 48,580.

The decrease was similar to that across England as a whole, where 7.7 million fewer appointments were made in April than 12 months previously, a reduction of a third.

The Royal College of GPs has urged patients to seek help if they need it, and said surgeries must have adequate resources to cope with a predicted increase in demand as the lockdown eases.

But the NHS says changes in how practices operate during the pandemic may have affected the figures, with remote sessions underreported.

Dr Mary McCarthy, a GP at Belvedere Medical Practice in Shrewsbury, said they had seen a fall in appointments at the start of the pandemic, but that the number of patients being seen was getting back to normal levels.

Dr McCarthy explained that the majority of appointments are currently being conducted remotely.


She said: "Largely general practice has been very innovative, agile, energetic and proactive in changing how they practice.

"We now have telephone consultations, some of which we convert to video so we can see them. If it is something we cannot see clearly on video we will ask them to send a photo by e-mail, which has worked very well."

She said surgeries are continuing to see mothers and babies, and patients with abdominal complaints due to the need for a physical exam.

Dr McCarthy said that general practice may take some lessons from the way it has changed appointments to deal with the crisis – but that although the current system was quicker for patients it still demands the same level of time from GPs.

She said: "I am having a virtual conference next week for European GPs and one of the things we are talking about is what we would like to keep once Covid is over. What changes we could embed into future general practice and one will be telephone consultations for certain things.

"There may be some things we can do over the telephone. the only caveat is it is not quicker. It saves the patient coming in so it is good for the climate, but it takes the same time for GPs."

Dr Julian Povey, Chair of NHS Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and a local GP, also said that practices had found ways to ensure patients are seen – and that the number of appointments was now increasing.


He said: "Throughout the coronavirus pandemic GP appointments have continued to be available and innovative approaches have been rolled out across the county to support patients and assist GPs.

"GPs have been instructed to switch to a triage first model and then if possible, to deal with patients remotely, this has included telephone, video and online consultations.

"When necessary patients are seen face to face, either in the practice, at home or at the CCG supported Hot Site. We are now starting to see an increase in requests for GP appointments following the recent ease of lockdown.”

Dr Jo Leahy, Chair of Telford and Wrekin CCG and a local GP said they wanted to ensure people did not put off visits to the doctor.

She said: “We have been promoting the NHS Help Us Help You campaign and residents across Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin have been encouraged not to put off contacting their GP practices if they need medical advice for conditions not related to coronavirus, as delays in getting treatment or diagnosis could have serious consequences.”

Figures from the NHS show that in Shropshire, 48 per cent of sessions were logged as having been completed over the phone in April, significantly up from just 13 per cent a year previously.

Those in Telford & Wrekin were up from 16 per cent to 45 per cent.

Nationally, the figure jumped from 14 per cent to 48 per cent over the period.