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Stay safe, stay healthy but do seek care

By Li Chun Low, Docly GP

May 27, 2020

Polling from NHS England shows that 4 in 10 patients are not seeking help from their GP because they are afraid to be a burden on the NHS during this COVID-19 pandemic. Data collected by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) showed a 25% reduction in routine clinical activity in general practice.

A&E departments across the country have also seen similar changes. Since the announcement of the lockdown on 23rd March, emergency attendances have also gone down by 25% compared to the previous week.

Some have suggested that there may be less illness due to the reduced contact between people and less trauma from vehicle use. However, other conditions such as strokes, heart attacks, asthma are also being seen in much smaller numbers. The British Heart Foundation reported figures of A&E attendances for heart attacks are down 50%. This begs the question: where are the other 50%?

Worryingly, there appear to be many patients who have chosen to ‘wait and see’ to avoid going to hospital or calling an ambulance as they are worried about catching Coronavirus. How will the NHS cope with the consequences of these ‘missed’ heart attacks and strokes?

Here, we will try to answer some of the questions about how GP surgeries and hospitals are accommodating for non-COVID patients and when patients should seek help from a healthcare professional.

What can I expect if I contact my GP for an appointment?

Many surgeries are working remotely now - either using message-based systems such as Docly, or telephone consultations. According to figures collected by the RCGP, in the four weeks leading up to 12th April, 71% of GP appointments were delivered by telephone and just 26% face-to-face. Here at Docly, we have seen a 47% increase in care being delivered since the announcement of lockdown was announced in late March. In addition, we are managing between 24% to 50% of demand from partner practices. You will be surprised how much can be done by text or telephone! If your GP needs to see you, but you don’t require an examination, then video consultations are also becoming more frequently used.

What if my GP says I need to go in for an examination?

Many local GP surgeries now have ‘Hot Hubs’. These are dedicated clinics used by different surgeries to allow patients with suspected COVID-19 to be reviewed and seen with full personal protective equipment (PPE). Therefore, it is unlikely patients with a cough, fever, sore throat or any viral symptoms will be attending your GP surgery. In addition to this, many surgeries operate an isolation room, which is a dedicated room where patients are examined with appropriate PPE. These rooms are often only used for examining patients, so consultation time is minimised. They are also cleaned after each use. Overall, GP surgeries are more likely to be ‘Cold Hubs’ with a lower risk of COVID-19 exposure, as most suspected cases are being diverted to local ‘Hot Hubs’.

Should I put off my routine appointment with my GP or nurse?

Many patients need to see their practice nurse for regular blood tests or monitoring of their chronic condition. Please check with your GP surgery to see if these services are still running before you decide to put them off. Many surgeries are running longer clinics with gaps between so less patients are together in the waiting room, and this gives nurses a chance to change their PPE as well as clean appropriate equipment before the next patient.

I’ve had a health issue that won’t go away. Should I wait until COVID-19 settles?

In short - no! If you have a health concern that is worrying you and it won’t go away, you should definitely discuss this with your GP or consult with a clinician using remote services such as Docly. A simple telephone call or message may help to reassure you, or alternatively, your GP may be able to organise further investigations or arrange a quick examination.

Please call 111 for urgent medical problems, or 999 for emergencies.

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