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GP practices forced to divert calls due to overwhelming demand

emergency care

GPs practices in Ayrshire and Arran, Scotland, are having to divert some of their calls to an urgent care service due to high demand.

During particularly busy times, some calls to GP receptions are being redirected to the Ayrshire urgent care service or an automated message provides patients with a different number to ring.

The amount of calls to GP surgeries across Ayrshire and Arran is much higher than it was pre-pandemic, putting huge pressure on practices.

Craig McArthur, director of East Ayrshire health & social care partnership, said in the Cumnock Chronicle that in some cases, practices are receiving calls ‘in excess of 500 a day’ when before the pandemic, they were handling 150 calls a day.

Vicki Campbell, head of primary and urgent care services for NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said: ‘As with other health boards across Scotland during significantly high periods of demand, many GP practices in Ayrshire and Arran are experiencing extremely high volumes of telephone calls. 

‘In some instances, call volume is far exceeding those experienced before the Covid-19 pandemic. We understand how frustrating this can be for patients who may be unable to get through to their practice when lines are busy.

She said that to ‘support easier access for patients’, some calls may be ‘diverted to a call handling service provided through Ayrshire urgent care service which has locations across Ayrshire’ during busy periods.

Ms Campbell added: ‘GP practices have individual processes in place should this support be required, where some calls may be automatically diverted to the Ayrshire urgent care service or patients may be greeted with an automated message providing an alternative number to call. 

‘Patients should continue to call their GP practice in the usual manner and be assured that, if they are directed to the call handling service and need to speak to their GP practice then this will be arranged.’

It comes as a Pulse survey of 1,000 GPs found that half say that a return to the number of face-to-face appointments would not be possible, as patients are now expecting to have quicker access through remote consultations.

But it also found that the average waiting time for a face-to-face GP appointment is currently significantly shorter than before the Covid-19 pandemic, and patients waited about a week on average for a remote consultation with a GP.

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Dylan Summers 23 September, 2021 11:59 am

We will see more of this. One difficulty is that there will be significant overlap between the pool of GPs available for locum cover for practices and the pool of GPs available for OOH shifts.

So every GP recruited to take extra calls in the OOH service will be one fewer available to the practices as a locum.

Patrufini Duffy 23 September, 2021 12:58 pm

I need an emergency appointment: because

– I’m having a panic attack: I have to go to work
– I need my pill, like now, no – now!
– My boyfriend thinks I need my mole checked
– My toenail is yuck
– I’m bored of my life and twiddling
– Do you have any lactose free bread, for my smashed avocado breakfasts?
– My NHS app doesn’t work, I’m going on holiday