Experiences of GP access, ongoing treatments and wellbeing throughout the pandemic

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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.

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General details

Report title 
Experiences of GP access, ongoing treatments and wellbeing throughout the pandemic
Local Healthwatch 
Healthwatch Middlesbrough
Healthwatch Redcar & Cleveland
Date of publication 
Thursday, 22 April, 2021
Date evidence capture began 
Thursday, 1 October, 2020
Date evidence capture finished 
Sunday, 28 February, 2021
Key themes 
Booking appointments
Cleanliness hygiene and infection control
Digitalisation of services
Health inequalities
Health protection
Holistic support
Lifestyle and wellbeing
Service delivery organisation and staffing
Waiting times and lists for treatment

Methodology and approach

Was the work undertaken at the request of another organisation? 
Primary research method used 
Focus group
If an Enter and View methodology was applied, was the visit announced or unannounced? 

Details of health and care services included in the report

Primary care services 
Community pharmacy
GP practice
Secondary care services 
Inpatient care
Mental health services 
Community mental health team (CMHT)
Community services 
Community based services for people with mental health needs

Details about conditions and diseases

Types of disabilities 
Vision impairment
Types of long term conditions 
Mental health condition
What type of pregnancy or maternity themes are included in the report 

Details of people who shared their views

Number of people who shared their views 
Age group 
All people 18 and over
Sexual orientation 
Does the information include public's views? 
Does the information include carer's, friend's or relative's views? 
Does the information include staff's views? 
What was the main sentiment of the people who shared their views? 

Outcomes and impact

Were recommendations made by local Healthwatch in the report? 
Does the information contain a response from a provider? 
Is there evidence of impact in the report? 
Is there evidence of impact external to the report? 
Not known

Network Impact
Relationships that exist locally, regionally, nationally have benefited from the work undertaken in the report
Implied Impact
Where it is implied that change may occur in the future as a result of Healthwatch work. This can be implied in a provider  response, press release or other source. Implied impact can become tangible impact once change has occurred.
Tangible Impact
There is evidence of change that can be directly attributed to Healthwatch work undertaken in the report.