Big increase in demand to see a doctor in Shropshire
Tens of thousands more patients across the county booked appointments to see their GPs in June as demand rose closer to pre-Covid levels, new figures show.
It follows a huge drop off at the start of the pandemic and, in the weeks following, more face-to-face consultations were replaced by telephone and video calls in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.
But the move has prompted concern that there are still 'significant' parts of the region's population that don't have access to digital technology.
It has led to health bosses in Shropshire offering assurances that face-to-face consultations will not disappear completely and will be available to patients where necessary, together with phone and digital assessments.
NHS Digital data shows patients booked 120,634 appointments with practices in the area covered by Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group in June – 23 per cent more than in May.
In Telford & Wrekin CCG's area, there were 66,170 appointments in June – 25 per cent more than the previous month.
Numbers were still around 10 per cent down on June last year, but in comparison demand in May had been down more than 30 per cent.
For around four in 10 patients, their sessions were completed over the phone.
At a recent virtual meeting of Shropshire Council and Telford & Wrekin Council's joint health overview and scrutiny committee, committee member Dag Saunders raised concerns saying significant parts of the population in the county don't have access to digital technology, with the older generation often hit hardest.
In response, David Evans, joint accountable officer for Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin CCGs, said: "All GP practices by next April have to offer online consultations for patients, but that's not the only option available for patients to have a consultation with GPs.
"All GP practices will be moving back to having some face-to-face consultations for those patients where a face-to-face consultation is necessary.
"But there will still be digital consultations, telephone consultations and face-to-face when required."
The NHS also cautions that changes in how practices operate during the pandemic may have affected the figures, with remote consultations under reported.
The Royal College of GPs says demand at surgeries could soon surpass pre-crisis levels as people feel more confident accessing services.
Chairman Professor Martin Marshall said: “As normal services begin to resume, general practice will be at the forefront of dealing with the health consequences of the pandemic, as well as continuing to deliver routine GP services and an expanded flu vaccination programme and prepare for a potential second wave of Covid-19.
"It is essential that GPs and their teams have the necessary guidance, resources, and workforce capacity to manage these new challenges and continue to deliver good-quality care to patients.”
In a recent speech to the Royal College of Physicians, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the switch to more remote consultations had been “hugely positive”.
But the Patients Association has warned continuing use of remote sessions must not become "the new normal” without assessing the benefits to patients.
Across England as a whole, 20.6 million appointments were made in June – 4.3 million more than in May.