Only half of Greater Manchester GP deals now face to face in digital revolution that has come to be

Just over half of Greater Manchester’s GPs are now performed externally – part of a digital healthcare service that, to some extent, has at least come to stay.

The latest data from the NHS reveals that only 54 percent of patients in the area were seen face to face, including during home visits, by their doctor in August.

That compared to 51 pcs. In January, during the winter lockdown and 80 pcs. In February 2019, before the pandemic hit the UK.

READ MORE: NHS staff under attack describe how they became ‘bad guys’, why it’s so hard to be seen – and why Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid really are not helping

And it is understood that although patients may request personal appointments, video and telephone consultations are here to stay, even at what levels still need to be seen because the pandemic produced plans for a more digital approach that was already under way.

The relationship between face to face and external agreements varies greatly across the region.

In Salford, 43 percent of patients are said to be in surgery or at home, compared to 63 in Wigan.

In Bury, meanwhile, the person was 3, but due to an ‘IT problem’, in most cases (97) it was not known whether they were face to face or remote, making this inaccurate.

To compensate for the 8 per cent. Of agreements in Greater Manchester that are ‘unknown’ – again said to be caused by IT issues – regional health chiefs have encountered the number of face-to-face appointments to 56pc, in line with the national average.

Dr Fareeha Saeed, a physician at Failsworth Group Practice who describes herself as ‘overworked and unappreciated’, said she had seen 28 of her 35 daily patients.

She said they also dealt with staffing challenges combined with flu jabs, boosters, a large backlog of patients held back during the pandemic and the need for infection control, all adding pressure.

Oldham GP Dr Fareeha Saeed says they have become ‘bad guys’

“Covid is still there, we are still dealing with it,” added Dr. Saeed, who claims the NHS needs a ‘structural overhaul’.

‘And on top of that the verbal and physical assault has gone sky high.

“They need to let us use our judgment and medical knowledge to determine who we see.”

Dr. Tom Tasker, MD and Chairman of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership Medical Director, said: “We know GPs are often the first point of contact for people who are concerned about their health and well-being, and how important it is that the public have access to general practice when necessary. ”

He said the pandemic had brought about a ‘number of changes’ that were already underway in Greater Manchester around providing more options on deal types available to people.

He added: “This led to a rapid transformation in the early part of the pandemic, whereby we moved from a model largely face to face to one of external consultations, such as telephone, video and online to support patient and staff safety while still maintaining the services. “

He said the Covid level remained high and that the system reduced the risk of transfer in waiting rooms and consulting rooms to GPs, adding: “We protect the most vulnerable members of the public in line with government advice.”

He said that they worked hard to deliver personal appointments where it was possible for those who wanted them, and in cases where it was clinically appropriate – and that GPs had a central role in this.

Dr. Bags accepted that there was work to be done.

He added: “We recognize that we have more to do to guide the public in understanding how general practice currently works, including what contractual options are available and appropriate for individual needs, and which are condition-specific.”

He said the total number of agreements in general practice was ‘significantly higher’ than the pre-pandemic, partly due to the new range of options but also due to increased demand.

He added: “We know that for many people, it can sometimes feel difficult to get through on the phone, and there is not always a way to leave a message or use a digital option; this is something we are changing to help the public get through for support.

“We want to assure the public that we are trying exceptionally hard to meet a high demand and respond to all those who need advice and care.

“We ask the public to understand the pressure on our services and that we are busy seeing thousands of people in Greater Manchester every day.”

Meanwhile, 35 per cent of dental practices have said they are ‘challenged but cope’, with around 8pc reporting ‘significant challenges’.

About a quarter of pharmacists say they are ‘challenging but successful’, while a third of optometry practices report the same.

Problems accessing GPs have had a knock-on effect on other services, with A & Es busier than ever during the summer, and worsening ambulance times – with reports of ambulances queuing outside emergency departments.

Analysis by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) showed that lack of access to GPs has been a key factor in this increased pressure – especially with the elderly, the disabled and low-income families.

Both the government and NHS England say more patients should have face-to-face consultations — and that GPs are getting money to provide them.

But speaking to the BBC, Royal College of GPs chairman Professor Martin Marshall said: “The workforce is simply not big enough to make ends meet.”

Separate figures from the NHS show that there are currently 1,384 full-time doctors in Greater Manchester, excluding localities and trainees.

That is slightly up from 1,372 in 2020, but down from 1,427 five years ago in 2016 – despite a government drive to increase GPs.

Professor Marshall said GPs strive to provide the same high-quality treatment, whether a consultation is remote or personal, and that some patients prefer remote consultations as they may be more convenient and fit for other commitments.

However, he added: “Remote counseling will not always be appropriate. That is why personal appointments are made – which account for almost six out of ten consultations in August – and have been throughout the pandemic when necessary.

Face-to-face counseling will always be an essential part of general practice, and as we move out of the pandemic, we want to see a mixed approach with decisions about how care is performed as a common task between GPs and their patients.

“Ultimately, we need more GPs and other members of the practice team to provide the care our patients need. The government needs to act now to address this by working to build GPs with at least those “6000 full-time equivalent GPs who have been promised, as well as other members of the training team, address the ‘unnecessary’ workload in general practice leading to trained GPs leaving the profession earlier than planned.”

Across the UK, more than 80 per cent of patients were seen face to face either in surgery or at home before the pandemic.

During the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, this share fell below 50pc and has been low since – hovering between 50pc and 60pc all year.

A spokesman for health and social care said: “We are very grateful to GPs for their hard work and commitment in bringing the agreement back to pre-pandemic level, with over 330 million delivered in the last year.

“As has always been the case, we are clear that GPs must take the patient’s preference on board and provide face-to-face applications to those who wish, along with external consultations.

“We are investing £ 270 million to expand GP capacity, in addition to providing £ 1.5 billion for general practice by 2023/24 to provide world-class care to patients.”


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