The number of GP patient appointments in North Yorkshire and York carried out using video consulting has soared during the coronavirus pandemic.
NHS North Yorkshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and NHS Vale of York CCG say doctors in the area have been involved in more than 17,500 virtual consultations with patients over the last four months.
It comes as many GP practices have adopted a government-prescribed ‘Total Triage model’ and continue to manage the number of face-to-face appointments available to help suppress the infection and transmission risks associated with coronavirus (Covid-19).
With the NHS urging patients not to put off speaking to a GP if they have health concerns, clinical leaders in North Yorkshire and York say video consultations are a way for patients to see a GP or other health professional without feeling they are compromising on their safety.
NHS North Yorkshire CCG Clinical Chair, Dr Charles Parker, said: “Over the last four months patients have been somewhat reticent about contacting their GP practice, even when they’ve been really worried about their health.
“People wanted to follow the ‘stay at home’ message and were reluctant to reach out to their practice because they were either worried about being in an environment where they might be exposed to a Covid-19 risk or didn’t want to be contributing to the demand on NHS services at a time when there were very real fears our hospitals would be overwhelmed.
“But as more NHS services start returning to normal, now is not the time to be delaying a conversation if you have a health problem that’s making you anxious.
“If you are concerned about something you can always check out you symptoms and get advice on self-care from NHS111 Online. This service will give you simple advice on treatments and where to get help and support from if home treatment is not applicable.
“If you are still worried, get in touch with your practice and you may be offered a video appointment, a telephone appointment, or face-to-face appointment – whichever is most appropriate for you and your circumstances.”
NHS Vale of York CCG Clinical Lead, Dr Nigel Wells, added: “It’s very important that patients who have health concerns don’t put off seeking help and advice from their GP or other health professional.
“We are becoming increasingly alarmed that patients are living with serious conditions like heart disease and cancer that have not been diagnosed and are going untreated; our message is simple – if you are worried about your health, get in touch with your surgery and make an appointment. Practices are offering telephone and video appointments where appropriate, but face-to-face appointments are still available to patients who need them.”
One Harrogate patient, who we’ve not named, told the CCG of her alternative GP experience. She said: “I had a telephone consultation for an infection on my thumb nail; I shared pictures via text with the doctor and then went to collect a prescription from my local pharmacy. It was very swift and efficient and I’m glad I didn’t take up too much time for someone else who needed it.”
The 51 GP practices in the NHS North Yorkshire CCG area and the 26 practices within NHS Vale of York CCG use a platform called accuRx Fleming for video consultations with patients.
Data for the 17 weeks until 12 July shows there were 6,902 patient video consultations in the NHS Vale of York CCG area and 10,661 in the NHS North Yorkshire CCG area.
While some practices were using video consulting prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the majority of the 77 practices in the York and North Yorkshire CCG areas – 44 practices – conducted their first accuRx video consultation with patients in March and April this year.
Filey Surgery GP, Dr Mike Shepherd, said: “The pandemic has seen a huge and rapid surge in the use of various technologies to enable patients to consult with clinicians. As well as video consultations we have email consultations and a secure messaging system that enable patients and clinicians to contact each other and send pictures of conditions like rashes.
“Links to useful and reliable web based advice and help can also be forwarded to patients. These new systems seem well received by patients. The only drawbacks I have encountered relate to slow infrastructure / broadband signals and the inevitable digital divide which limits use by some of our less tech confident patients.”