A POLITICIAN believes the Welsh Government needs to urgently update their guidance on the resumption of face-to-face GP appointments.
Janet Finch-Saunders, MS for Aberconwy, has written to 14 practices in the area to ask how she can assist with the demands on Primary Care providers.
In a Welsh Conservative debate on the strain felt by the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust last week, Mrs Finch-Saunders made clear that a compounding factor locally was the inability for some patients to access face-to-face GP appointments. Her intervention comes as the Community Health Council (CHC) told BBC News Wales that many patients have been left waiting for up to an hour on the phone to speak to someone.
Mrs Finch-Saunders said: “Over previous months I have been increasingly concerned about the number of residents who are struggling to get a face to face GP appointment, opposed to a virtual or telephone one. This is why, following a meeting with the Royal College of GPs Wales, I wrote to 14 local practices to see how I could offer greater support.
“The Welsh Government’s guidance for GP surgeries to continue to use online or telephone services is placing further pressure on emergency services, including the Welsh Ambulance Service. So too is the advice in my constituency for people presenting with mental health concerns to head to A&E instead of improving local access to such specialised support.
“We know that the lack of face-to-face appointments appears to be hitting our elderly residents the most. Indeed, research tells us that only around 75 per cent of men and 68 per cent of women aged between 65 and 74 use the internet. Personable, face-to-face appointments are also essential to building long-term, trusting relationships.
“Whilst it is true that the use of digital technology has played an important role in allowing for the continuation of our Primary Care services during Covid-19, the onus should now be on supporting the return of more face-to-face appointments for those patients most in need. This means reviewing the telephone booking systems being used by surgeries to ensure that it can cope with triage demands.”
Figures released by the BMA Cymru in May 2021 found that GPs are now facing 18 per cent higher rates of appointments than pre-Covid levels.
A recent survey by the Royal College of GPs also found that around 88 per cent of staff believe that in-person appointments are important for building trusting patient relationships.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Despite the pressures facing GPs, practices are open and working to meet patient needs undertaking more appointments than ever. Face-to face appointments will be arranged where clinically necessary. Our GPs and other skilled healthcare professionals are best placed to determine whether or not a face-to-face appointment is necessary as part of their clinical investigation.
“Clinical triage continues to be used and is key to ensure that patients receive the care they need, at the right time, from the right person.”
The Welsh Government added that their communications campaign, under the umbrella of Help Us, Help You, had been well received by practices [see flowchart above].