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Gloucestershire Business News

Could do better: watchdogs slam NHS and GPs

A report on access to Gloucestershire NHS and GP services highlights headaches over getting appointments, confusion in communication and ineffective technology.

Healthwatch Gloucestershire (HG), which is part of the UK independent body that listens to patients and is empowered to improve care standards, said its latest findings come from 824 consultations across the county's diverse range of communities.

The report focused on "persistent concerns" raised by residents about difficulties accessing GP services and included a public engagement project in autumn 2023.

An HG spokesperson said: "Building on previous reports from 2021 and 2022, this project sought to understand the current situation amid increasing pressure on GP services and the accelerated use of digital technology by GPs.

Key issues identified were:

● Communication: lack of effective communication has led to confusion and frustration among patients regarding appointment booking, triage systems and the roles of different healthcare professionals.

● Accessibility: patients with accessibility challenges, including language barriers and technology use, face difficulties engaging with GP practices. Issues were identified among specific demographic groups, such as those aged 25-49, individuals with various health conditions, and people whose first language is not English.

● Appointment-related frustrations: patients expressed frustration with the wide-ranging time slots for GP calls, and the need for separate GP appointments for each issue, which they felt to be inefficient and caused delays for diagnosis and treatment.

● Technology disparities: while some patients are keen to use digital options for accessing GP services, people expressed frustration at disparities in availability, complexity and effectiveness of digital services across GP practices in Gloucestershire. It was also noted that the apps used are not always easy to use and they are only in English.

In response, the regulatory body said it had recommended key changes for GP access:

● Better communication about the services, clinics and staff available, through informative leaflets, displays, newsletters, and open events.

● Improving accessibility through diverse appointment options, extended use of video appointments, clear pathways for interpreter requests and information available in other languages and formats.

● Addressing appointment-related issues with longer appointment options to discuss multiple issues, advance booking for regular appointments and shorter callback time slots for GPs.

● Tackling technology disparities by ensuring GP websites and apps are up-to-date and provide the full range of digital GP services, working with Digital Hubs to provide basic IT training to local people and introducing change of language functions on websites and apps.

Lucy White, HG Manager, said: "People often tell us that accessing GP services in Gloucestershire is difficult. In recent years, there has been increased pressure on GP services and a growing demand for GP appointments to be offered in a variety of ways, with rapid acceleration of digital and remote methods due to the pandemic. We have reported our findings to NHS Gloucestershire and other health and care leaders and provided actionable recommendations to support ongoing service development and improvement."

Becky Parish, Associate Director, Engagement and Experience NHS Glos said: "We are pleased so many people have taken the opportunity to share their views... to ensure the voices of underserved communities were heard. The report's findings underscore a number of areas NHS Gloucestershire is already working on with primary care colleagues and identifies some new areas for us to focus on."

Ms White added: "Over 800 people took time to share their experiences and feedback with us. I'd like to thank them, and the local groups who helped us reach and hear from our diverse communities, to help improve access to healthcare for everyone."

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