How did you find the move to over the phone or virtual appointments with your GP during the pandemic? For some Carers, it has been valueable as it has saved them the time of physically visiting the surgery and they have been able to access support without having to worry about leaving the person they provide care for.

However, there are people who have found the move to more digitally-led healthcare difficult and in fact, they have felt shut out and excluded over the last 12 months. For example, the lack of face to face GP appointments has been difficult for: those who do not have technology, or not confident in using it, older people, people with disabilities and for people with limited English.

Healthwatch’s report explores how people have been excluded and what needs to happen to get the care they need.
The move to remote GP appointments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic happened very quickly. NHS England advised GP practices to triage patients by a telephone or online consultation system before providing them with an appointment and only providing face-to-face appointments where clinically necessary.

We know that while this has worked well for some, it has created barriers for others. We spoke to people traditionally more likely to experience digital exclusion to understand why and how this can impact their healthcare experiences, especially during the pandemic. These groups included older people, people with disabilities, and people with limited English.

Key findings
The new report investigates why people have been excluded, including lack of digital skills, language barriers and lack of interest in using technology to go online. Healthwatch has identified five principles for post-COVID-19 care to ensure everyone has access to the appointments they need.

Five principles for post-COVID digital healthcare
1. Maintain traditional models of care alongside remote methods and support people to choose the most appropriate appointment type to meet their needs.
2. Invest in support programmes to give as many people as possible the skills to access remote care.
3. Clarify patients’ rights regarding remote care, ensuring people with support or access needs are not disadvantaged when accessing care remotely.
4. Enable practices to be proactive about inclusion by recording people’s support needs.
5. Commit to digital inclusion by treating the internet as a universal right.

You can read the full report here.

NHS Appointments and Remote Care – Know your Choices

Remote appointments work well for some people. Others may need services face-to-face because of privacy, digital skills and confidence, access to connection, data or devices, concerns around cost, confidence reading, writing or using English and specific communication requirements. Please be aware that you do have a choice. You can:

  • Be seen in person if that is the only way you can get good care – whether its’ for a physical or mental health problem    
  • Get support from a staff member to help you book an appointment..
  • Be able to request face-to-face support if you cannot access the care you need over the phone or online.
  • Receive the same quality of care as people who access health and care services online.
  • Keep your information private, and only discuss your health problem with a doctor or nurse.
  • Have access to an interpreter – this includes a Sign Language interpreter.

What about if you are a Carer for someone?

If you are booking an appointment for someone you care for, the same applies – they can expect to access services in the way that best suits them.

If you need a face to face appointment and are struggling to get one, you can:

  • Explain to clinical or administrative staff that certain times or platforms do not work for you.
  • Say if something does not make sense or you do not understand. You can expect information in a language and format that works for you.
  • Contact your local Healthwatch who provide feedback to services – for Birmingham contact
  • Get involved in your local Patient Participation Group – healthcare staff can provide you with details.
  • Reach out to a charity that can support you – use to find out who can help.
  • Provide feedback or make a formal complaint to the service.