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GP practices are facing unprecedented demand but remain open

Health bosses in Birmingham and Solihull are reminding the public that their GP surgeries are open and have been throughout the pandemic, but that they are exceptionally busy and need their support.

All 160 practices across Birmingham and Solihull have remained open, delivering high quality care in the safest possible way throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and are continuing to do so.

But with pressure building across the NHS, it’s more important than ever that patients are supportive of their surgeries and patient with healthcare workers.

Patients have noticed that they are being asked to access services in slightly different ways, as the majority of practices operate a ‘triage first’ model which sees a phone or virtual consultation in place of or ahead of a face-to-face appointment. This is the way that General Practice will continue to operate

Anyone wanting to contact their GP practice for anything other than a same day appointment is advised to contact them later in the day, when they may find it easier to get through. Patients can also make use of the NHS App or practice websites to order repeat prescriptions.

While work is underway to ensure more patients can access their practice easily, it’s important to understand that only those people who have a clinical reason to attend in person will be invited to do so.

Dr Will Taylor, Clinical Chair at NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and a local GP, said: “General practice teams, including my own, have been working tirelessly over the last few months, often at great personal sacrifice, to provide not only the same level of care our patients are used to, but to do so in a COVID safe way. The last thing we want to do is invite a very vulnerable elderly person in to the practice at the same time as someone who has a serious fever or other potentially contagious illness.

“We understand that some patients are frustrated that they might not be offered a face-to-face appointment or that they may be waiting longer than usual to get through on the phone, but we can assure the public that we are doing everything we can to cope with the current demand and we are constantly evaluating how we provide care to ensure no one misses out.”

In Birmingham and Solihull, general practice is offering almost 20% more patient appointments on the same day and up to seven days compared to 2019 – with 1.8 million offered in June to September 2021 compared to 1.5 million in the same months in 2019.

The number of appointments being undertaken overall between this period in 2021 was 2.3 million compared to 2.1 million in 2019. In September 2021, approximately 613,000 appointments were made, compared with 568,000 in 2019 – equating to 20,000 appointments per day.

Call volumes to practices are up by 100% from June to August 2020 to 2021. In 2020 the average calls per month were 1.07 million, rising to 2.14 million in 2021, which may explain why some patients phoning their practices are struggling to get through. This is having an enormous impact on the workload of General Practice and leaving some patients feeling frustrated. Following the national announcement of extra funding for access, there will be work undertaken to review telephone systems in the coming weeks.

This is all on top of the highly successful COVID-19 vaccination programme, of which general practice has delivered the vast majority, having recently delivered one million COVID vaccines across Birmingham and Solihull.

Dr Richard Mendelsohn, Chief Medical Officer at NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG and also a local GP, said: “The demand we’re seeing across the whole of the NHS is a huge challenge which we are trying desperately hard to meet. But with this increase in pressure, we are also seeing a huge increase in the level of abuse being directed towards NHS staff which is simply unacceptable. I would urge everyone to continue to demonstrate patience as we work harder than ever to care for you, and would also encourage patients to consider whether they are choosing the very best service for their condition.”

There are multiple options for patients experiencing health concerns, and it’s important we all take responsibility for using the right service for our symptoms.

  • Self care – this is the best choice to treat minor illnesses and injuries, such as hangovers, coughs, colds, grazes, small cuts or sore throats. Many of these can be treated at home simply with over-the-counter medicines and plenty of rest.
  • Pharmacy – Pharmacists can advise on and treat a range of symptoms, avoiding unnecessary trips to GPs or A&E departments. They can support you with things such as diarrhoea, earaches, painful coughs, sticky eyes, teething and rashes.
  • GP – your GP practice can provide you with access to a range of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, prescribers and more. You can speak to your receptionist or care navigator to understand what options might be best for your condition.
  • NHS 111 – you can access 111 online or via the telephone. This is for any urgent but non-life threatening health concerns. They will be able to signpost you to the relevant service and provide advice where appropriate, or book you into an Urgent Treatment Centre.
  • A&E / 999 – you should only attend A&E or dial 999 in a life-threatening emergency such as severe bleeding, breathing difficulties and severe chest pain.
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