Patient access to GPs increased

Residents in Bolton will benefit from more GP appointments in person, as practices resume more of the services that were put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although the virus is still with us, GP practices have been making changes over the past few weeks to the way they manage their appointments with patients.

When the pandemic first hit six months ago, GP practices across the country were advised to scale back operations and prioritise the remote treatment of patients.

This meant that patients were no longer able to walk into their local practice and speak to a receptionist. Instead, they were asked to contact their GP by phone or online.

The majority of appointments were conducted either over the phone or via a video call.

Face to face appointments were limited, and offered only in extreme circumstances.

However, practices had ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ zones to separate Covid and non-Covid patients if they were invited into the surgery.

Since the start of July, practices have been able to return services to a more normal level and with that, they are in a position to offer more face to face appointments with their patients.

Patients are reminded that if they need to contact their practice they should still phone first, or contact them online – this is for everyone’s safety.

And their initial assessment or ‘triage’ will continue to be carried out remotely.

If a patient needs an appointment they will be contacted by their GP or another member of the practice team - such as a mental health or musculoskeletal practitioner, or the practice nurse.

Appointments will carried out in one of three ways:

  • by telephone
  • via video consultation
  • in person at the practice

Face to face appointments will be arranged if they are medically appropriate and considered in the best interests of the patient.

Chair of Bolton CCG, Dr Wirin Bhatiani, said: “The pandemic has meant that the NHS in Bolton has had to work differently in order to keep staff and patients safe. While we have been operating a ‘phone first’ system, we have been well and truly open for business and there has been a need to see some patients in person.

“For the past few weeks we have been encouraging our practices to increase the levels of face to face appointments where medically appropriate. We recognise that there are some cases that simply need that personal interaction between patient and their GP.

“However, we must remind patients that while services are returning to more normal levels we are not returning to how things were pre-Covid and we must continue with a system which requires patients to contact their practice first either by phone or online.”

In addition to more face to face appointments, practices are resuming routine services such as new patient reviews, medication reviews, health checks for the over 75s and the shingles vaccination programme.

Things like cervical smear tests and childhood vaccinations have been operating for some time.

Bolton CCG’s Clinical Director of Primary Care and Health Improvement, and a practising GP, Dr Stephen Liversedge, said: “We have been delivering more services and seeing more patients for the past few months and hopefully patients will have seen a difference since the height of the pandemic.

“We understand that some people will still feel reluctant or nervous about contacting their GP – whether that is because they don’t want to be a burden or they are hesitant about going into a practice.

“However, I would urge people to get in touch if they have a health issue. Admittedly, we are still asking patients to contact us remotely – and we have adapted really well to this new way of working – but if we feel it would be better to see a patient in person then we have made it safe to do so.”

Practices in Bolton are open Monday to Friday, from 8am to 6.30pm.

Patients should also be aware that pre-bookable evening and weekend appointment are also available. These may be carried out remotely or at an NHS site in Bolton, and not necessarily by their own GP.

To book an evening or weekend appointment, patients should contact their practice in the usual way.

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