A GP in Barnet and Vice Chair of North Central London CCG

Like most GPs, with the advent of the pandemic, Charlotte saw a dramatic change to her day-to-day work.

“The surgery felt very different,” says Charlotte. “Instead of the usual daily hustle and bustle, there were very few people in the building. Some staff needed to shield at home and the majority of patients received their care in a different way,”

To keep patients and staff safe, Charlotte’s practice rapidly moved to online consultations with patients. This is something they had been planning to introduce for some patients very gradually, but with very little alternative the change happened overnight.

“Each day, as a practice, we would review all patients that booked appointments – regardless of whether that was on the phone or online – prioritise the most urgent and ensure that others got the support they needed from the right member of the team. One benefit of this is that access to GP appointments has definitely become fairer and patients are seen by the right person sooner”

Most patients would then have an appointment using a video service or on the telephone, with only those who absolutely needed a face-to-face appointment asked to come to the surgery. For many this worked well, but Charlotte acknowledges that it’s not the right solution for everyone.

“I think patients are surprised at how much can be done without them having to travel to see us in person. It’s been a learning curve for GPs too. However, we know that for some patients there’s no substitute for the face-to-face care offered in our practices,”

As well as changes to patient care, other elements of Charlotte’s day changed too. One benefit was the ability to leave the car at home and walk to work. She also enjoyed greater interaction with GP colleagues across the borough who worked together to share knowledge and experiences at difficult times.

The pandemic also had a personal impact on Charlotte and other staff at the practice. Both she and her daughter contracted the virus, and Charlotte had to take some time off work; she still experiences some of the post-viral symptoms. Around 21 patients from the practice died in March and April.  This figure is usually around 3 or 4. 

“Losing patients to the virus has been emotionally challenging for everyone at the practice. Our regular patients become like friends and the loss has a huge impact for everyone,”

Looking forward, Charlotte is keen that GPs take the good things with them. “We’ve shown that we can work in new and different ways. The next thing we need to do is take stock and ensure that what we do in future works well for everyone,”

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