19 Oct 2021

General practice staff are asking for patience and support as they work through their busiest ever period.

Doctor’s surgeries across St Helens are open and staff are working harder than ever to make sure patients and the public are kept safe and they continue to get the care that they need.

Whilst legal restrictions such as social distancing and wearing a face covering ended in July in many places, they are still required in healthcare settings to keep patients, the most vulnerable and staff safe. This includes general practice, dental surgeries and hospitals.

Dr Michael Ejuoneatse, GP at Central Surgery and Medical Director at NHS St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Additional safety measures, like wearing face coverings and limiting the number of people in practices at a time are still in place for the NHS, this is to ensure that we can still provide effective services and keep our most vulnerable patients and staff protected.

“If your GP feels that a face-to-face appointment is required, this will be arranged and patients will be seen by a GP or another appropriate member of clinical staff, which has been the case right the way through the pandemic. There are also pre-bookable appointments at evenings and weekends for those who need them. Simply ask at your practice for details.

“Most common conditions can be assessed and diagnosed by your GP via telephone or video consultation.”

When trying to contact practices, it may take longer to get through on the phone than people are used to.  If it isn’t urgent, there are alternative options available, like online consultations.  This is where an online form can be completed about a health issue and it can be accessed via a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Once the questions on the form have been answered, a text or email will be sent confirming the online consultation is complete, advice is given about what to do next.  If the GP surgery needs to get in touch, they may suggest a phone or video consultation.

Before the pandemic, GP practices were already very busy. Now GPs are dealing with more patients than ever before.

Dr Ejuoneatse added: “GP practices are seeing a rise in demand which is higher than we would expect to see at this time of year. We are working hard to treat patients as soon as we can and we ask for patience while we do that.

“Most practices are still using a telephone first system to help manage the rising number of contacts or asking patients to use their online service if possible, to ensure everyone gets the most appropriate support for their needs.

“As well as GPs and practice nurses, there are other health professionals like pharmacists, physiotherapists and social prescribers working to support our patients. Our receptionists’ role is to assign the right health professional for you, so they may need to ask some questions about your condition. They will treat your information in the same strict confidence that medical professionals do.

“This way of working is essential to helping us continue to provide our service, including seeing patients whose condition means they need to be seen by a GP.

“We’d like to thank all our patients for working with us throughout the pandemic and for still wearing face-coverings, following social distancing rules and for their continued kindness and support when using our services.”

Data from NHS digital shows that in St Helens in August 2021, 66,676 appointments took place.  62% of these were either face-to-face or home visit and 38% were via telephone/video/on-line.  58% of appointments were either the same day or the next day.