Experiences of GP access, ongoing treatments and wellbeing throughout the pandemicDownload (PDF 1.66MB)
Summary of report content
Healthwatch South Tees undertook a survey to follow up their earlier report on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, following intelligence received suggesting the following issues required more exploration:
- GP access;
- The impact of ongoing treatments and cancelled or postponed operations;
- Mental health and access to support services.
They got responses from 401 people via a survey and focus groups with the deaf community.
The attitude of staff at GP surgeries, reception staff in particular, had a negative impact on the experience of patients, especially when trying to access an appointment. Telephone booking systems were problematic and could deter people from accessing care due to not having the capacity to wait in the queue for an appointment.
Telephone appointments weren’t always appropriate for everyone. Many respondents hadn’t been offered an evening or weekend appointment – increasing this could reduce waiting times and enable more people to access care. Patients were turning to pharmacies if they have waited too long for a GP appointment causing increased pressures on this service.
Communication is vital to keep patients updated with any changes to the surgery in ways that are accessible and suitable for all to understand. People feel safe when accessing a face-to-face appointment if guidelines are clearly followed and practiced by everyone when attending the surgery, including staff.
People’s physical and mental health has been largely affected by the delay and cancellation of treatments and operations. Patients have felt let down and left in the dark as a result of poor communication during these delays. Communication between professionals and patients is critical in ensuring people can continue to manage their condition and navigate the changing system.
People relied on community activities to help their mental and emotional wellbeing and without support, they have struggled. Although many people felt their mental health has declined, not everyone accessed mental health services due to reliance on internal support systems, not wanting to bother services, or feeling their mental health wasn’t severe enough for professional help. Despite long waiting times and a range of Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations offering support, people are still not made aware of the alternative support they can access while waiting for appointments, which can help prevent conditions deteriorating further.
The report contains five recommendations about improving access to GP appointments, the need to adhere to the Accessible Information Standard, better communication between patients and awareness of other sources of support.