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Column 23rd January 2019

GP phone appointments are not a panacea

The BBC news last weekend suggested that there is a significant shortage of GPs across the country.

The Royal College of GPs said the shortages put care at risk. The Chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the differences in the number of GPs was "shocking" and "surprising".

"It suggests there are areas of the country that are really struggling to get the GPs they need.

Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power said the findings were "worrying".

She said as well as risking safety, shortages also meant "increased difficulty in securing an appointment, and longer waits".

The number of patients per GP in Wantage and Grove was about average in the findings but there is no official recommendation for how many patients a GP should have, because the demand each patient places on their GP is different. Older patients, young children or people with long-term conditions, such as diabetes, will need to see their GPs more than others.

If a doctor has a lot of these patients, they will not be able to cope with as many patients.

Many practices, like ours, are resorting to telephone consultations as a way for coping.

Yet a study in 2015 found that instead of saving time and money, the phone service actually increased the workload.

People who had received a call from their GP or nurse made significantly more contacts with health professionals at the surgery over the following 28 days (average 2.65 and 2.81 contacts respectively) compared with patients in the surgeries providing usual care (1.91 further contacts).

It is worth noting that the study found no difference in terms of quality of care, but did not reduce the workload for GPs.

Another idea being tested is Skype appointments and a study reported recently by Professor Greenhalgh at Oxford University suggested that although some consultations can be safely held remotely, many cannot.

Once again Doctors and Nurses spent approximately the same amount of time whether the consultation was face-to-face or remote so the only time saving was for the patient not having to travel to the appointment.

Granted this timesaving for patients is not to be sniffed at when there is limited public transport to the surgery and patients travelling from Wantage and Grove to hospital outpatient appointments are travelling 1-2 hours each way.

So technology may help, but expanding our health centre to make space for more GPs will continue to be necessary as additional houses are built.


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