Will Appointments with your GP Return to Normal?

Being able to see a GP has changed significantly during the pandemic, leading to a wide range of opinions and satisfaction levels. With phone calls becoming the main way of receiving a consultation, many wonder if this will be the new normal.

According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, at the peak of the pandemic, the ways in which patients accessed their GP reversed from around 70% face-to-face and 30% by phone, video or online pre-pandemic, to around 30% face-to-face and 70% remote.

An additional study in Staffordshire using NHS figures also recognised this decrease in face-to-face appointments, falling from 89% in February 2019, pre pandemic, to 56% in August 2021.

“Things have changed during the pandemic and I haven’t really been around people,” explains Paul Cook, a member of the British Research Panel, who has been living with COPD for 14 years.

“When I contacted my doctor, I did it all by phone and I think the conversations were sufficient and informative. One of my major concerns is catching covid, so the fact that my doctor is willing to talk to me in the comfort of my own home is absolutely perfect for me,” continues Paul.

Paul is among millions of Brits who feel satisfied with the transition to mostly phone call conversations, however the nation remains divided with many feeling that phone calls are inadequate for receiving accurate diagnoses.

A Divided Nation

Despite phone call conversations providing greater ease and protection against covid, studies suggest that they can result in a loss of valuable non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions.

“I hate not being able to see a doctor face to face. I can’t answer the questions properly and then I just have to try and explain the issue I’m having without them actually seeing it,” explains Coralie Stephanie, who is struggling with some side effects of her asthma medication.

In agreement to this, Beryl Black, a severe asthma patient told us, “I only really speak to my doctor over the phone. Given that I’m self-diagnosing, it’s just my word. I say I have a chest infection, because I think I have, even though they don’t see me.”

Whilst many feel that they aren’t receiving phone call advice from their doctor that is of the highest quality, there are also large numbers of people who haven’t contacted their doctors at all during the pandemic, through fear of being a burden on the already struggling NHS.

The Worry of Missed Diagnoses

Throughout lockdown, the message of “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” was sent out by the government to all Brits. As a result, many people were reluctant to seek medical help to avoid wasting medical professionals’ time and adding pressure to the NHS.

A study carried out by Cancer Research UK found that of the 3025 patients surveyed, 40.1% developed at least one sign of cancer, yet 44.8% of them did not contact their GP about the symptom.

In addition, an analysis of GP records from Salford acknowledged that less than 50% of the expected number of diagnoses were made for common mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, between March and May of 2020.

“If you have got patients who are undiagnosed and untreated, then the effect on their long-term health and mortality is obviously going to be significant,” explains Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, to The Guardian.

“During a pandemic, other health conditions do not cease to exist, and we’ve seen from health crises in the past that there are sometimes more deaths from conditions unrelated to the pandemic than the virus causing the pandemic itself,” continued Marshall.

With many patients failing to be diagnosed during the pandemic, through fears of catching covid or being a burden, it is clear that a shift must be made so that the health of millions can be addressed.

I listen to the news and try to make sense of all of the different sides of it. I think that when we get to the stage where covid becomes the equivalent of the flu, I will be happy to return to normal. I don’t think we are anywhere near that point yet!

A Return to Normal?

As we advance into 2022 and restrictions begin to ease, GPs are being encouraged to begin seeing patients face-to-face again.

The pressures of the pandemic have led to a backlog on care with waitlists at an all-time high. 1.2 million Brits have been on waitlists for essential care for more than 6 months, five times higher than in 2019, and in August 2021, 5.5 million remain on NHS waitlists.

It is clear that action must be taken to address all of those waiting for care, however many remain fearful that the complete return to normal is too soon.

“I listen to the news and try to make sense of all of the different sides of it. I think that when we get to the stage where covid becomes the equivalent of the flu, I will be happy to return to normal. I don’t think we are anywhere near that point yet!” Paul Cook tells us.

Mixed opinions on the government’s decisions plans to return to normal are evident. The question remains of how can we find a balance between addressing those who lacked care during the pandemic, whilst continuing to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19?

Decentralisation of Clinical Trials

The greater reliance of technology in healthcare during the pandemic has also been seen by the transition to decentralised trials, allowing trials to be completed at home and away from hospitals.

Such trials, provide ease to patients allowing them to participate from their own homes, as well as a greater sense of security as patients are less likely to come into contact with COVID-19.

At the British Research Panel, we asked what our members thought of this transition and created the following report: The-Patients-Perspective-on-Decentralized-Trials-2.pdf (jameslindcare.com).

Unlike GP appointments, the reduction of face-to-face appointments in clinical research appears to welcomed, with 57% of patients preferring participating mostly from home. As long as patients receive monthly calls from medical staff, easy access to experts and education, it is likely that decentralised trials are here to stay.

There is no doubt that the delivery of healthcare has drastically changed over the last couple of years. Whilst some changes have been embraced, others have shone light upon what patients value and would like to see return.

At the British Research Panel, we want to listen to your experiences and make your voices heard!

Written by
Eloise Healey

People are more likely to attend online GP ap | EurekAlert!
NHS doctors know too well how waiting times damage all aspects of patient care | Peter Endicott | The Guardian
Fear of contacting GPs during Covid outbreak 'fuelling missed diagnoses' | Health | The Guardian
Nearly half with cancer symptoms in the UK did not see GP in first wave of pandemic | Cancer | The Guardian

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