What happens to GP appointments and prescriptions during UK lockdown?

Suffolk County Council's response to coronavirus crisis has been exceptional. Picture: SARAH LUCY BR

Suffolk County Council's response to coronavirus crisis has been exceptional. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

With tougher lockdown measures in place and many GP practices switching to phone appointments, questions have been raised over access to health appointments and prescriptions.

Dr Mark Shenton , GP and chairman of the Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG governing body, said everyone

Dr Mark Shenton , GP and chairman of the Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG governing body, said everyone must be responsible while using health services. Picture: ARCHANT

Dr Mark Shenton, chairman of the governing board at Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group gave some clarity on the situation.

MORE: All the latest coronavirus updates on the Suffolk Facebook pageAre all GP practices switching to phone appointments or just some?

“Each practice can make their own decision, but what we do know is we can protect the workforce and the ability of a practice to be sustainable if we reduce face-to-face contact.

“This is not about protecting individuals, it’s about protecting the whole service.”

Dr Shenton said that questions would be asked when patients phone up for an appointment to determine who the best person is for them to speak to, and whether the nature of the complaint meant an in-person appointment was needed.

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However, people were being urged to give as much information as possible and not misrepresent their symptoms in an attempt to get a face-to-face appointment.

Why is it important people adhere to the phone appointments?

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“A lot of requests from our patients don’t need a face-to-face appointment, so using alternative methods that practices have means that there are alternative ways that patients can get the information they need.

“That protects practitioners, patients and the facilities.

“If you have someone that contaminates a facility, what would a community do then? A whole practice would have to shut down.”

What sorts of ailments will still get a face-to-face appointment? For example, could someone presenting with suspicious lumps be seen?

“It would be things like that, symptoms that are worrying people.

“It’s not about telling people they must not contact us, but it is about contacting us with clear reasons and being able to describe what their conditions are.

“If they can be clear, we are in a better position to decide if it’s face-to-face or be a phone call. That all helps practitioners.

“The kind of things like chest pain we are not stopping people doing, but we are asking for clear information and the expectation is we would have a chat first.”

Are there changes to accessing prescriptions or repeat prescriptions?

“There is no change to the process of putting a repeat prescription through, that will still happen.

“Most pharmacies will want a little leniency in lead-through time for prescriptions.”

For example, instances where someone can normally pick up a prescription 72 hours after requesting the medication may take a day or two longer than normal.

MORE: ‘More people will die unless you stay at home,’ hospital chief warnsWill patients be able to get prescriptions for medication lasting three months, instead of just one?

“We are still maintaining 28-day prescribing for patients.

“We are not going to move to three-months supply because of the impact on the supply chain for that. We want people to have access to their meds when they need them.

“If we suddenly put through three times as much volume that means people may not have that access to medication.”

Given off-the-shelf tablets such as paracetamol are among those people are stockpiling, and prices are inflating for those, will GPs be prescribing those sorts of medications?

“We will still be saying no on that one at the moment. There are still more on our priority lists.

“I know there are some restrictions on availability but a lot will be in preparation rather than absolute need.”

Are there concerns things usually found during face-to-face appointments or routine x-rays that indicate more serious health conditions might be missed, for example tumours or cancers?

“We are still working through access to diagnostic tests.

“The most common would be x-rays or blood tests, and maybe an ultrasound, so we are looking at what mitigations we are going to put in place to continue access to those for the most appropriate patients.

“If we look at suspected cancer care pathways, we don’t want to change the threshold but we will need to monitor how we act on the suspicions and concern of a referring GP, and that may cause a bit of delay.

“The hope is that we will have a consistent approach at the hospital end from our perspective with requests for urgent outpatient appointments.

“We do want to maintain, as much as possible, business as usual, but it might be slightly different.”

What advice do you have for patients who require GP appointments?

“It’s to heed the advice that’s coming out about responsibility we have as citizens to each other, as well as the responsibility we have to the services we expect.

“Time is having an impact on this because of the coronavirus, and we need a chance to be able to deliver a sustainable service as long as possible for all our patients if we are to successfully get through this.

“This personal responsibility is vitally important because our frontline practitioners are putting themselves in harm’s way if people don’t follow that advice.

“We really owe it to ourselves, our neighbours, community and to our whole population that we remain responsible.”

MORE: Bookmark the EADT coronavirus page for all the latest informationAs well as the above advice, people have also been urged to be respectful to staff at GP surgeries, pharmacies and other health organisations, who have faced some abusive behaviour.

A spokesman from the CCG said some of things GP surgeries were being asked for but could not provide, because they were not appropriate or because government advice was already out there, included:

• Prescriptions early or for more of a medication “just in case”

• Inhalers “just in case” for patients who have not used the for years or only used them during a bad cough

• Paracetamol

• Advice on whether to self-isolate

• Travel advice

• Random COVID-19 tests

• A sick note for self-isolating

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