Report reveals patients still struggle to get in-person GP appointments

Healthwatch report on residents access to GP

A review of patients’ access to Havering GP practices - conducted by Havering Healthwatch - showed a mixed picture in terms of the difficulty residents face when accessing their GP. - Credit: PA Images

Patients continue to face "difficulties" getting a face-to-face GP appointment in Havering, a report has found.

Healthwatch Havering decided to look into the issue of accessibility in May amid growing concern that patients have found it even more difficult to contact their GPs during the pandemic.

Although the manner in which practices operate has changed hugely since the outbreak of Covid, as outlined by the review's introduction, this has impacted patients in Havering.

"As the lockdown progressively relaxed over the summer and autumn of 2020, while most people returned to near-normal working (maintaining social distancing and wearing masks), it became clear that many GPs were reluctant to return to the pre-pandemic ways of working and seeing patients," it said.

"Patients began to contact Healthwatch Havering to express concern about the difficulties they were experiencing in contacting their GP practices and, in particular, arranging to see a GP in a face-to-face consultation."

This prompted the consumer group to survey the situation for itself.

The three-strand survey - comprising of a telephone, online and case study component - uncovered a number of issues.

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Healthwatch volunteers contacted every GP practice in the borough to ask whether face-to-face consultations were available.

It also requested contact details for the Patient Participation Group (PPG); a body which each practice must set up to obtain patient feedback.

Of the 41 practices contacted, 20 answered after one call, while 13 did so after two.

Eight practices only answered after three or more calls.

A total of 28 practices offered face-to-face consultations; 17 after triage, 11 without.

Appointments were unavailable at four practices, while the remainder did not reply.

In terms of the PPG, details were not available at 21 practices, but could be provided in nine cases. 

Once again, the remainder did not reply.

The findings prompted Healthcare Havering to make eight recommendations, including a suggested review of telephone answering systems and a replacement for the "8am race to get an appointment".

Information on PPGs should also be more widely available, the report says, which also recommended additional surgery sessions to clear appointment backlogs.

This report follows on from a review of Havering GP websites which was carried out by the consumer group earlier this year.

The Recorder has approached the managing Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for comment.