Extra GP appointments as NHS feels the winter pressure
GP surgeries are providing extra appointments as the NHS tries to cope with increased levels of illness over the winter.
Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for paying for health services in the area, says GP practices across its area are providing a total of 7,000 hours more for appointments over the four months to the end of February.
It comes as Bristol’s hospitals reported that mounting pressures over the winter meant they were failing to meet targets to see emergency patients within four hours and waiting times for planned treatment were rising.
The CCG says that in Bristol, the number of hours available for appointments across all surgeries had been increased by between 413 and 1,780 hours per month, the equivalent of between 17 and 74 entire days of surgery opening.
In November, 413 extra hours of appointments were provided in Bristol, with 1,780 extra hours in each of December and January, and 923 extra due to be available in February.
But the time patients wait to have an appointment can vary considerably between practices.
According to the NHS GP Patient Survey for 2019, 18% of patients of Air Balloon Surgery were able to book a same-day appointment, 24% waited more than a day but less than a week and 48% waited for a week or more.
At Fireclay Health, which includes St George Health Centre and Lodgeside Surgery, just 8% of patients were able to book a same-day appointment, 54% waited more than a day but less than a week and 32% waited for more than a week.
At the Wellspring Surgery in Redfield, 24% of patients surveyed were able to book same-day appointments, 39% waited more than a day but less than a week and 27% waited a week or more.
At Lawrence Hill Health Centre, 54% of patients reported being able to book a same-day appointment, 26% waited more than a day but less than a week and 12% waited a week or more.
Some patients responding to the survey couldn't remember the length of their wait.
A spokesperson for the CCG said more evening and weekend appointments were being provided to make things more convenient for patients and relieve pressure on busy hospitals.
He added: “In order to support access, especially during the colder months when people pick up winter illnesses, GP practices are providing 7,000 hours of extra appointments from November through to the end of February.
“Many practices are also embracing digital ways of serving patients, allowing patients to reorder prescriptions, access self-care advice, and book appointments through the NHS app. Some are also offering an online consultation service for their patients.
"We’re also planning to work with practices to pilot and evaluate video consultations in 2020, and provide this as an option for practices to use in 2021.
“There are preventative steps the public can take to stay well this winter, avoiding a trip to a GP or other urgent care service altogether. Actions as simple as keeping warm, getting a flu vaccination and visiting a local community pharmacist at the first sign of illness all contribute to staying healthy.”
A CCG governing body meeting in January heard hospitals including the BRI and Southmead were "enormously pressured" over Christmas and New Year, with demand at A&E growing at a "really significant rate" and 19 people currently waiting more than a year for planned surgery.