Many practices are already struggling with an increase in workload, growing patient demands and reduced resources. With the Easter holiday approaching, there is an additional challenge of ensuring continuity of care for practices planning to close for Good Friday and Easter Monday.
In England, NHS England’s winter indemnity scheme has been extended by one month to help GPs working additional out-of-hours shifts over the Easter bank holiday.
The Scottish Government has also given consideration to the strain on the NHS during holiday periods, and has recently commissioned a review of health and care public holiday services. Recommendations are expected this spring to prepare for implementation next Christmas and beyond to ensure services are co-ordinated more effectively during public holidays.
So what can practices to do help minimise any disruption to patient care ahead of the Easter weekend? If a practice plans to close for the holiday weekend, then it is crucial that they have a system in place to ensure continuity of patient care.
Here are some key steps to take to minimise disruption:
1. Keep patients informed
Some patients may panic when they realise their surgery is closed on a week day. By communicating with patients, doctors can ease their concerns while also minimising disruption and relieving demand on out-of-hours providers.
There are some simple steps GPs can take to make patients aware of the practice opening hours during the Easter break, such as during face-to-face appointments, via the notice board in the waiting room, in the practice newsletter and on the practice’s website.
If the practice has a Twitter feed or Facebook account then this too can be a useful way of keeping patients informed.
Many patients will not know about out-of-hours arrangements when the surgery is closed, so this information should also be included in any communication, together with access details.
2. Plan ahead for repeat prescriptions
You can’t plan ahead for emergencies, but it may be worth reminding those patients on prescriptions to ensure any repeats are picked up prior to the long weekend.
Prescription counter slips can also carry a special notice, so that patients can make sure they have adequate supplies of repeat medication.
3. Work together with out-of-hours service
Effective communication between GPs and the out-of-hours providers is also important to ensure safety during all holiday periods. Patients receiving palliative care or those with complex physical and mental conditions may be particularly difficult to manage in an out-of-hours setting where little or no records are available.
Therefore, the use of ‘patient of note’ communications can be of assistance. Vital details can be forwarded to the out-of-hours service in advance, providing, of course, that patients consent to this.
4. Take care when handling results prior to holiday weekend
Practices should also be vigilant in relation to any abnormal result handling on the day before the holiday begins, given the four-day gap before normal service resumes.
This is an area where problems and complaints may arise, particularly in relation to warfarin results or electrolyte abnormalities that may need dealt with more urgently.
As always, keep clear, accurate and contemporaneous patient records. This is especially important prior to the long weekend and in the immediate aftermath when the practice may be especially busy.
Dr Barry Parker is a medical adviser at MDDUS