Lakeside Healthcare at Oundle has introduced a new consultation platform that they hope will address wait times and backlogs to accessing GP services. The Swedish system, Doctrin, has received positive reviews so far.
Ninety-two percent of patients said they had received sufficient information, and ninety percent were happy to recommend it to others.
During the first wave of lockdowns communities across the country joined together on Thursday evenings to clap in praise of NHS workers dealing with the pandemic. But since those early days, the public has increasingly turned from expressing appreciation to voicing frustration and complaints about long wait times for appointments and lack of in-person consultations.
Some patients have complained that GPs have been slow or unable to adapt, but the demand for GPs has soared since the easing of restrictions. The BBC estimates that demand for GPs is now double pre-pandemic levels. This increase has led to angry and anxious patients putting pressure on GPs. In the modern age of immediacy, people feel entitled to speedy treatment, which has meant that many GPs are facing dissatisfied patients demanding fast appointments when services are overstretched.
With 11,000 patients, the Oundle Surgery is busy. While Oundle escaped the worst of the pandemic, there were noticeable changes to the availability of GP appointments. Dr Kathryn Newell, a Practice Partner at the Oundle Surgery, said: “Covid had a massive impact. We had to change within 24 hours to remote triage and working. There was a large clinical learning curve with new directives on a daily basis.”
From March 2020 the surgery switched to telephone consultations to keep patients safe and minimise footfall in the building, and by May, a third fewer people were seeing their GPs. Some patients were not able to see GPs in person for 18 months. Repeat prescription services remained unaffected, and when patients in villages were isolating, a volunteer system was set up to deliver prescriptions.
Dr Newell said they are now consulting with twenty-five percent more patients than before the pandemic. However, she said “anyone who medically needs to be seen face-to-face, will be seen”. Those who do not, will be contacted by phone, video call or online. It is estimated that fifty percent of the patients at the Oundle Surgery are now being seen face-to-face.
To improve the patient experience, the surgery has adopted a new online platform called Doctrin that promises improved continuity in care. They call this system a “secure online consultation platform designed to provide enhanced services.” Users log in using their NHS login. It can be used on devices from laptops to iPhones and is available all the time, but is monitored between 8am – 6pm. It reduces the need to travel to the surgery and offers triage to the most appropriate professional, as well as a response within one working day.
Anyone with a life-threatening injury or illness is reminded to still ring 999.
“The new Doctrin system means that patients have another way of contacting us for non-urgent problems,” Dr Newell said. “This reduces the pressure on the phone lines and frees them up for people who have more urgent issues or cannot use the Doctrin service for non-urgent problems. It may also be useful for patients who have hearing problems and find the telephone difficult.”
The response to this new system has been overwhelmingly positive, with users agreeing that it was simple and straightforward to follow. On one Oundle forum a resident said: “It is so much easier than hanging on the telephone in a queue.”
The doctors at the surgery have faced enormous pressure over the last 20 months, but have adapted to the new ways of consulting made necessary by the pandemic. Dr Newell said: “Patients and doctors have missed seeing each other face-to-face as much as we used to, but I think people have appreciated the convenience of some of the new services.”