Ten ways the pandemic has impacted on Primary Care
22 Jun 2021
Simon Bricknell, Healthcare Director, Develop Consulting
Primary care services provide the first point of contact in the healthcare system, acting as the ‘front door’ of the NHS, but 14 months on, how has the pandemic affected Primary Care and its service users / patients?
I have been supporting NHS England & Primary Care throughout the pandemic right from those very first signs that ‘this is becoming serious’. In that time so much has changed; from no face to face consultations, ‘hot and cold hubs’ to digital interactions. But with so much change, has it all been good, and are we learning from understandable mistakes considering just how quickly some of those changes were implemented?
Here are 10 challenges facing Primary Care and General Practice and how we’re supporting practices to learn and improve.
The ability to see your GP in person or face to face. We are helping practices to understand when and what is appropriate for a patient to actually see a healthcare professional in person by running a series of simulations and workshops to discuss the different scenarios and patient needs.
Patient’s well-being.There has been a number of knock-on effects to a patient’s well-being as a result of not being able to attend their GP’s clinic throughout the pandemic.We are supporting practices to maintain and improve planning for patients with long term conditions and how best to manage their care alongside urgent and new cases. We have also been helping practices to identify patient groups that haven’t attended the practice but should have.
People’s mental health.General Practice has always had a hugely important role to play when supporting a patient’s mental well-being. But now more than ever we are helping practices to ensure they are able to signpost patients to access the right treatment and support as quickly and effectively as possible.
Surge of Patient frustration.Of course, it is frustrating when patient access is hindered but often this manifests itself directly at practice receptionists. We are helping reception staff, alongside clinicians, to improve processes, reduce waste and variation so that patients are directed to the right person, at the right time – which hopefully will improve not only patient access and satisfaction but also help to improve the working lives of reception teams.
The backlog of treatments & queue length.We have all seen just how big the backlog is with routine hospital treatments, not to mention urgent care such as cancer but does this also mean demand at general practice will increase as patients want to see their GP? We think the obvious answer is yes, so we are now looking at how do we measure and understand demand vs capacity using real data to better inform decisions around improvement
How do we know if the changes made to support the pandemic should remain? For all the changes that have been made in the last 14 months, many will have been carried out quickly, lacking patient consultation and without fully knowing if they will actually improve things. We are helping to assess changes across a scorecard that includes – patient experience, patient outcomes, efficiency, quality and safety and staff satisfaction. We are also making sure that each change is monitored across them all so that we can ‘balance’ any negative affect to another.
How to use Digital Solutions correctly.Many consultations are now carried out without the patient actually attending the practice. We are helping to improve processes so patient safety is not jeopardised, while at the same time making sure that the GP is supported in using the right technology at the right time for the right scenario and isn’t afraid to bring the patient into the practice.
Increase in General Practice demand.We know from the points above that the demand is increasing for GP services. So we are now helping practices, and patients make sure their appointment is appropriate for their needs while at the same time making sure practice systems and processes do not bring patients ‘back’ when it isn’t needed, sometimes referred to as ‘failure demand’.
GP Shortage.It is common knowledge that General Practice needs more GP’s both from a capacity and retention perspective. However, we also know that there are skills within a practice that aren’t being used for a number of reasons. We are helping to identify not only gaps but also maximizing utilisation of current skill sets.
Where patients go when they cannot access a GP.If a patient needs to be seen and cannot get in with a GP then the patient will go elsewhere, such as an emergency department or walk-in centre. Develop Consulting are also supporting the wider health and care system to look holistically across services to make sure the patient has access to the right person with the right skill in the right place at the right time.This has been a very difficult 14 months for all of us, which is why we believe these next few are vital to be able to bring more of a sense of “normal” and stabilisation back to the healthcare system. With so much change having taken place, this is the opportunity to make decisions for the future that benefit both patients and practice.Just as everyone else is, we’re still learning and working our way through this ever-changing environment – if you have ideas, challenges or solutions we’re not yet aware of, we’d love to hear them.