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Will video and phone appointments with doctors continue after pandemic?

PUBLISHED: 16:02 16 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:02 16 July 2020

The James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston has reported a 6,000% increase in non-face-to-face appointments since lockdown began. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston has reported a 6,000% increase in non-face-to-face appointments since lockdown began. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Digital doctor’s appointments could be set to stay in Suffolk, after health chiefs outlined their intention to make sure transformations in the system remain post-coronavirus.

Dr Ed Garratt said cultural changes had been really positive in the health service. Picture: BEN CARMICHAEL/IPSWICH AND EAST SUFFOLK CCGSDr Ed Garratt said cultural changes had been really positive in the health service. Picture: BEN CARMICHAEL/IPSWICH AND EAST SUFFOLK CCGS

The Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board gathering of health chiefs on Thursday morning heard that the Covid-19 lockdown meant many health services switched to phone and video appointments, which had a positive effect on the health system.

And early data suggests that the public is in no hurry to return to face-to-face appointments if they do not need them.

MORE: How GP appointments have changed under lockdown

A survey of patients at a Stowmarket GP practice found just 14% of patients want face-to-face appointments in future, according to Dr Ed Garratt from the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups.

For north Suffolk patients, a 6,000% increase in non-face-to-face appointments has been reported at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston-on-Sea since March, while West Suffolk Hospital has carried out 2,000 outpatient appointments by video according to its chief Stephen Dunn.

Melanie Craig, chief officer of NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG said the challenge now was to maintain the transformations already made. Picture: NHS GREAT YARMOUTH AND WAVENEY CCGMelanie Craig, chief officer of NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG said the challenge now was to maintain the transformations already made. Picture: NHS GREAT YARMOUTH AND WAVENEY CCG

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Bosses say the cultural change must stay.

“There has been a really positive cultural change, not just in the health service but across all partnerships in Suffolk,” said Dr Garratt. “I think we have become more innovative during the pandemic.

“The biggest change for the health service has been around the use of digital, and there has been an absolute revolution in the way primary care is now delivered where we have moved to virtual consultation, largely through phones, and they have been very successful.

“People are much more comfortable with a different way of providing care, which is really positive. I think the general levels of collaboration in general practice have been fantastic. That is something we have strived for for many years and something we are now seeing.”

GP surgeries were keen to stress that services did remain throughout lockdown, and patients who needed face to face appointments were still able to access those in a safe manner with doctors wearing PPE. But appointments which did not need physical symptoms to be checked, such as medication reviews, could be easily carried out more efficiently via phone or video.

Melanie Craig, chief officer for NHS Norfolk and Waveney CCG, said: “The transformation has been fabulous and one of our challenges now will be to hold on to that transformation we have seen and not go back.”


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