GP appointment update – our response to the ongoing significant increase in demand for GP appointments

As you may be aware,  we were instructed by NHS England to change our appointment system overnight at the start of the pandemic in 2020. We were told to stop booking routine appointments and ensure that all requests were initially assessed by telephone to ensure we were keeping our patients and staff safe. As we understood more about how Covid-19 was transmitted, and we got better access to PPE, we introduced some pre-bookable appointments for the GPs where continuity (seeing the same GP) was clinically important. We also allowed certain problems to be booked face to face without prior assessment as these invariably need a face to face appointment. This included issues such abdominal pain, skin lesions and gynae exams. We started to arrange more and more routine appointments in response to online consultation (eConsult) requests. Despite what you may have read in the press or heard in the news, we have never been closed and have always continued to offer face to face appointments.

This system has worked reasonably well during the pandemic period. However, towards the end of March 2021 our practice along with all practices across the UK suddenly experienced a huge increase in demand for GP appointments. Our online consultations went from around 420 a week to 560 a week and telephone calls requesting appointments increased dramatically. Despite upgrading our telephone system to allow more lines, we were still hearing from patients that they were struggling to get through. There have been 2 occasions when we have had so many requests for urgent appointments that we have had to close our urgent care service to ensure the safety of our patients and staff.

This high level of demand continues and our current appointment system including the way we respond to eConsults is unsustainable. 

We have listened to feedback from patients and staff and made the decision to make some changes to our appointment system.

We are aware that no system will suit everybody. There is a national shortage of GPs. Demand for appointments will continue to outstrip our capacity and you may have to wait longer than you would like for your appointment.

Many of our appointments are booked for problems that could be managed in another way. Many minor issues can be managed with advice and treatments from a pharmacist or using self help information available on our website or on other NHS websites. Many appointments are booked to discuss issues or concerns regarding delays with hospital appointments. These queries are best directed to the hospital or clinic providing your care. We would ask all patients to consider carefully whether an appointment with a GP is really necessary. However, when you do need to see a GP, we will do our best to help you as soon as possible.

We have decided to return to our previous (pre-pandemic) appointment system. This will offer the option of same day urgent care appointments and routine pre-bookable appointments.

Same day urgent care appointments will be bookable by calling the practice the day you wish to be seen. Online consultations assessed by a GP as needing urgent care will also be booked an appointment with our urgent care team. Our urgent care team will consist of a number of GPs and Advanced Nurse Practitioners. As these are urgent same day appointments there will be limited choice of time and you will be offered the next available appointment that day. You will be able to express a preference for a male or female GP, but not a particular GP. Once our urgent same day appointments are full then any further requests for urgent care will be assessed by a GP and only those patients assessed clinically needing urgent care will be offered an appointment. Please be assured that if you feel you may be seriously unwell and need urgent medical attention, you will be offered the option of an assessment by a GP.

Routine appointments can be booked by telephone and via the NHS App. If no routine appointments are available then that means we are currently full. You will need to call back another time or check online as we will adding further appointments regularly. If you feel unable to wait for a routine appointment then you can ask for a same day urgent care appointment by calling on the day you would like to be seen. If there are same day appointments available then an appointment will be booked.  Please note, appointments cannot be booked by coming to the practice due to the current Covid restrictions.

We hope this system will allow us to preserve continuity of care where it is needed, give patients some flexibility when planning routine care, and allow us to safely manage the on-day and urgent needs of our patients. This will also enable fair access to appointments for all patients and not just those who are able to use online services.

We are aware we need to increase our capacity further and we are therefore trying to recruit another GP as well as increasing our administrative team’s capacity.

Routine appointments - online consultations

Like many practices across the country we have experienced a massive increase in the number of patients using our online consultation system (eConsult). We are aware that many patients find this a convenient way to get in touch with us. Every eConsult that contains a health related question must be reviewed and assessed by a GP or Advanced Nurse Practitioner and an appropriate appointment arranged or response provided. Many of these eConsults are for routine matters where a routine appointment is appropriate. We have previously booked these appointment in an available slot. However, as the numbers have increased we frequently have no routine appointments available and a waiting list has been created. We have booked patients on the waiting list into appointment as these became available. However, this meant very little capacity was left for those patients making appointment requests by telephone. This is not sustainable or fair to those patients unable to use eConsult.

We have therefore decided that, where a routine appointment is recommended by the assessing clinician, you will need to book the routine appointment yourself. You can do this by telephoning our appointment line or booking an appointment via the NHS or Patient Access App. Routine appointments are available both at our practice and at the Botley Hub site. If no routine appointments are currently available then that means we are currently full.  You will need to call back another time or check the online apps as we will adding further appointments regularly. If you feel unable to wait for a routine appointment then you can ask for a same day urgent care appointment by calling on the day you would like to be seen. If there are same day appointments available then an appointment will be booked. As this is an same day urgent care service the choice of appointment time and GP or Nurse will be limited.

Published: May 29, 2021