The letter, from Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, addresses difficulties patients have reported around getting an appointment, and stresses the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the nation’s health services – particularly primary care.
This comes shortly after The Star spent a day in a Sheffield clinic shadowing a GP to reveal what life is really like for doctors as they tackle increasing demand and greater patient medical complexity, while short on Government funding and with GP numbers falling.
The letter reads: “As you may have heard on the news or read online, there are currently unprecedented pressures across our health services in Sheffield. This is in common with most areas of the country and is leading to huge levels of demand for GP services.
“You may have struggled to get in touch with your GP practice recently or had to wait for an appointment. We understand that this can be frustrating, especially if you are feeling ill. This has sometimes led to the misperception that practices are not seeing many patients. We want to reassure you that practices are doing all they can to get through to and see as many patients as possible.
“Surgeries in Sheffield have worked incredibly hard to provide services throughout the Covid-19 crisis and continue to do so. We are very proud of how practice staff have responded to these challenges to care for you. This is at the same time as giving 382,510 people, two doses of the lifesaving covid vaccination since December.
“For everyone’s safety and to ensure we continue to provide care, the way we respond to patients has had to change during the pandemic. England is still in the middle of a pandemic with very high rates of covid which are increasing in Sheffield day by day.
“At the current time, our practice teams are working hard to protect patients and their staff from the deadly Covid-19 virus and stop the spread.
“Many more video and telephone consultations are taking place to protect everyone and prioritise those most in need. We know many patients like not having to attend their surgery in person when the problem can be safely dealt with remotely. Not only do most patients like telephone and online appointments, but they also stop covid from spreading and staff can get through to more patients, including those with urgent health needs.
“For these reasons, we see fewer patients face-to-face, but if you are assessed as needing a face-to-face appointment or if you request one you will still have one although you may have to wait a bit longer in some cases.”
In order to cope with the additional demand GPs have brought in more staff in different professional roles to help. Extra funding and support are also being shared across South Yorkshire to make even more appointments available.
Meanwhile, NHS Sheffield CCG has invested in more evening and weekend appointments at extended access hubs across the city and are investing more in technology to improve communication and efficiency.
The CCG says it is also offering support to individual practices who are struggling with staffing shortages or other problems to help them to continue providing services.