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Life in GP surgeries after Covid-19

Posted on 9/04/2020 by Emily Nolan

COVID-19 microbe

The global pandemic, COVID-19, is resulting in significant changes worldwide and will no doubt join the list of previous viruses which have shaken the nation and left devastation in their path. Many people have had to make adaptions to their routine, and ways of working, whether these relate to childcare or working from home, but for the NHS this has been a complete learning curve not just a few adaptations. For an organisation which is built on the human interactions of experts and their patients, restrictions on face to face contact mean significant change is required.  

The problem faced

GP surgeries are the first point of call for our nation when it comes to medical care, and on average every surgery offers a minimum of 70 appointments a week. These appointments have been, and largely remained until the current outbreak, traditional face to face sessions which, in addition to in person contact with the healthcare professional also meant time in a waiting room with other patients prior to being seen. The waiting room has long been recognised as a source of increased risk of exposure to other people's illnesses.

The NHS, in response in particular to the risk of illness being spread in waiting rooms, as well as trying to reduce the number of unnecessary medical appointments, sought to come up with new ideas to try and help prevent physical contact when not strictly required. NHS 111 was introduced in England in 2013 and since has been rolled out across the UK. This was followed by patients being able to access both their medical records and book appointments online, and most recently, online or video consultations with doctors.  However, in spite of these developments the majority of interactions continued to follow the traditional format.

How has COVID-19 changed the status quo?

The highly contagious nature of COVID -19, and the speed at which this pandemic has developed has pushed surgeries to look at remote systems in a much bigger way, quickly. Surgeries across the last few weeks have had to take drastic action and largely close their doors in order to help prevent the spread of infection. This change in working practices has taken many forms:

> ordering additional IT equipment to support a digital way of working;

> providing additional training to staff on how best to work remotely;

> delaying non-essential and non-urgent tasks to focus resources on the current crisis; and

> increasing medical staff numbers to help answer the phone lines in order to offer telephone triaging to patients wherever possible.

Doctors have been spending less time in surgeries and have been holding the online consultations or video calling patients back where necessary to avoid people having to leave the house.  The skills required for those working in GP surgeries are increasingly becoming more and more technology focused.

Looking forward

The question is what does this mean for the future of GP surgeries?

> will people feel safe going back to traditional appointments or will COVID – 19 leave behind a sense of vulnerability?

> will people grow to appreciate the benefits and possibilities of embracing technology, and therefore not want things to return to the old status quo?

Across the last 3 weeks we have seen the NHS take fast action in order to keep clinicians safe while still offering patients appointments. A number of platforms have been created such as NYE or LIVI which both offer surgeries the ability to hold a mixture of non-contact appointments and advice whether it be through text or video call.

The pace at which this had had to happen means that the focus has been on of course arranging virtual appointments but if this new norm continues post covid-19 then what does this mean for the non clinical staff.

> Will this open up more flexible working for administration?

> Is there scope for an online platform or more outsourcing purely to provide admin support and reception duties solely for the NHS?

Ultimately the stark memory of COVID - 19 will fade, and many will return to the normal ways of life, but undoubtedly there will be things which change forever. We will become a nation who has witnessed how technology can be used to provide and enhance healthcare provision, and that may mean that GP surgeries will need to take a new approach to how they deliver their services. Such a move will require all members of GP surgeries' staff to be able to embrace technology and deliver their roles using new technology.

There will also be a need to catch up on any of the non-urgent tasks which were side lined in the fight against COVID - 19. TPP will be ready to ensure that as GP surgeries re-open their doors, and continue to develop their online services in the aftermath of this virus that we are well placed to support them with fulfilling their staffing needs with the best candidates.

If you would like to speak with one of the team, please call on 020 7198 6080 or email healthcare@tpp.co.uk