Our report draws together findings from 20 publications and data sources and highlights increased demands on GP practices and Emergency Departments (A&E) in recent months. It highlights:
- People who are experiencing delays in obtaining GP appointments are going to A&E instead.
- There is low public awareness of alternatives to A&E, such as Pharmacies and NHS 111 First.
- Public information about which services they should seek medical support from can be inconsistent and challenging to access or understand.
- Sussex NHS Commissioners are proposing changes to GP appointment systems, and better promotion of alternative services.
Healthwatch will work with Commissioners to co-design messages which GP practices can use on their websites and on phone messages.
We issed a press release which can be read here
Healthwatch has made seven recommendations that respond to these issues. These relate to improved access for patients, clearer information on which services people can access and when, and ensuring consistency of signposting across the health and care system. These changes can help ensure that patients are able to access the support they need as quickly and simply as possible:
- Encouraging GPs [and other providers] to maximise the mechanisms by which patients may contact them, so that individual methods such as phone systems do not become overwhelmed if there are spikes in demand.
- Creating greater uniformity in the information provided by GPs, especially on their websites and out-of-hours phone messages, so that a consistent and clear message is provided about which services people should seek to access and in what sequence based on their circumstances.
- Health services which are not GPs or Emergency Departments but are able to offer support such as Pharmacies, NHS111 and Urgent Treatment Centres could be widely promoted in order to raise awareness of them amongst the public in order to spread the demand.
- Choice remains key, and preferences amongst patients for face-to-face appointments need to be acknowledged by commissioners and providers. Otherwise, people may focus on those services where this is offered, such as Emergency Departments.
- Expectations for remote and virtual consultations and appointments are often the same as for face-to-face. Providers need to ensure that ‘call backs’ and virtual meeting times are agreed with patients and wherever possible stuck to.
- Further work is required by service commissioners, providers and Healthwatch to explore the impacts of system pressures on those from different equalities groups, and those seeking to access specific services.
- Additional evidence and insight may be available from voluntary and community sector organisations into people’s preferences around the use of health and care services, and this could and should be used on a regular basis to inform service development.
Sussex NHS Commissioners are undertaking work in the following areas:
- Supporting GP practices to move their phone systems to digital “cloud based” systems over the next year. This will greatly improve access and waiting times. Depending on the system chosen, this could allow patients to be called back to book an appointment rather than waiting on hold; video consultations; and support for GP practice staff who may need to self-isolate to work remotely.
- Sharing information with the public to encourage them to call 111 as a first step for medical advice when it’s not an emergency or when their GP practice is closed. Similarly identifying how they could be helped by an alternative service such as a pharmacy or urgent treatment centre.
- Supporting people to register with a GP if they are having problems in doing so (No one will be left without a local GP).
Our report has been shared with the Sussex Integrated Care System (ICS) and members of the pan-Sussex System Pressures Task and Finish Group.
Healthwatch in Sussex (Brighton & Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex) will continue to work in partnership with them and individual providers to monitor the experiences of patients and the public in accessing health and care services locally and explore how ongoing development may be delivered.