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Coronavirus: Drop off in Harrogate GP appointments in March

Coronavirus: Drop off in Harrogate GP appointments in March

Published by May Norman at 6:56am 5th May 2020.

Tommy Lumby, Data Reporter

A drop in GP appointments across Harrogate during COVID-19

  • Fewer people across the Harrogate district are visiting their GPs during the coronavirus lockdown.
  • Over 15,000 appointments were recorded in the last seven days of March - that's a drop of 12 per cent the same week last year.
  • Health bosses are now reminding patients that GP practices are open and if they are ill or concerned about their health to make an appointment.

GP surgeries in Harrogate saw a drop off in appointments in March, as the effects of Covid-19 hit trips to the family doctor.

NHS Digital data shows that 15,739 GP appointments were recorded in the NHS Harrogate and Rural District CCG area in the last seven days of March.

This was 14 per cent fewer than in the first week of the month, and 12 per cent below the same week a year previously.

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The NHS says changes in how surgeries operate during the pandemic may have affected the figures, with remote sessions underreported.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the RCGP, said the data will not capture other ways care is being delivered, such as via “Covid hubs" and GPs providing NHS 111 support.

He added:

“Nevertheless, a decline in patients seeking medical help for conditions and illnesses unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic is concerning and could lead to serious consequences, as we have seen in previous health crises.

“As such, we want to remind patients that GP practices are open and if they are seriously ill or concerned about their health – or if, for example, they or their child is due a vaccination – they should contact their GP practice.”

The NHS said the decline does not necessarily mean GPs are offering fewer appointments overall.

It added doctors could be using more list appointments, in which contact with several patients is only counted once, while online and video sessions “may also not be routinely captured”.

Medical director for primary care Nikki Kanani said:

“Last month practices delivered nearly 25 million appointments – over the phone, online or face-to-face where needed – and the majority took place within 48 hours, showing that even during these unprecedented times, if people require help from a GP they are able to get it, making contact initially by phone or online.”

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The figures also show 67 per cent of appointments in Harrogate in the last week of March were recorded as face-to-face, compared to 81 per cent in the first seven days.

Meanwhile, telephone appointments rose from 17 per cent to 31 per cent over the period.

The Patients Association has urged the NHS to closely monitor the consequences of the shift to more remote consultations.

Chief executive Rachel Power said:

“If the findings show that it’s been positive for patients, then we’d like to see plans to make more routine use of telephone consultations once the pandemic is over.

“But if this isn’t the case, then GPs will need support to correct any shortcomings in patient care.”

The RCGP said its own data showed 71 per cent of routine consultations were done remotely in the four weeks to April 12, compared to just 24 per cent over the same period a year earlier.

Prof Marshall said that while general practice will remain a face-to-face service, being able to offer remote appointments will be beneficial long after the pandemic is over.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the data did not “accurately reflect” the changes in general practice during Covid-19.