"What are you going to do on July 19th?"
We've been asked this question a lot since the Prime Minister's announcement that Covid-19 regulations would cease on the 19th July. The quick answer is that, as a practice, very little will be changing at all - but we thought it was sensible to spend some time explaining the reasoning for this, as well as explaining what measures we currently have in place for any patients who haven’t visited the surgery recently.
So, what are we doing currently?
At present we are speaking to all patients on the phone before bringing them to the surgery. Those patients that can be safely managed on the phone are, whilst those that need to be seen are invited down to the surgery. Many patients have remarked that they find this approach more convenient, and from a practice perspective it allows us to reduce the numbers in the waiting room, making it easier for people to socially distance. The front door is currently locked, with patients being admitted via the intercom, in order to check for symptoms.
Any patients who report symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 are still seen in the surgery where appropriate, but they are asked to wait in the car park until the doctor is ready to see them, and then taken directly into our isolation room without having to enter the rest of the surgery itself. This clearly minimises the risk of spread to other patients. That room is then cleaned thoroughly before it is used again.
We ask that masks are worn at all times in the surgery (unless they need to be removed for an examination). We appreciate that this isn’t possible for all of our patients – those who feel unable to wear a mask for any reason will still be seen, but again will be asked to wait in their car rather than the waiting room. Staff will sometimes ask even these individuals if it's possible to wear a mask for a short period if they are having to carry out procedures in close proximity.
How will this change?
As mentioned, very little. We will continue to speak to patients on the phone in the first instance where possible, and we will continue to ask that everyone in the building wears a mask, and to see symptomatic patients in the isolation room.
We are however planning to re-open the Helperby Branch Surgery soon. There is some necessary building work to be done, but once this is completed we hope to start surgeries in Helperby again. There will be some changes to help control the numbers within the waiting room, and to allow the dispensing of medication from the front window.
Why not just go back to "normal"?
We appreciate that for some of our patients the maintenance of these measures will be regarded as extremely unwelcome, and to those individuals we apologise. However, we're also aware that we have a significant number of vulnerable patients for whom the thought of lifting these precautions is the source of significant anxiety. (According to the National Patient Survey, 10% of our patients avoided making an appointment at the surgery in the last year because they were worried about the risk of catching Covid-19.) We want to ensure that the surgery continues to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for these people, so that they can feel comfortable in attending.
Whilst vaccination has reduced the risk to individuals, it has not reduced it to zero, and levels of Covid-19 in the region are currently rising. At the time of writing rates of infection in Harrogate are the highest in North Yorkshire, and well above the national average. Equally these measures clearly protect against other readily transmissible infections (such as flu).
Finally, as mentioned, some of the changes made since the pandemic have proven popular with patients – particularly the increased use of consultation by phone, video or eConsult. As such we intend to continue to offer these services for this reason, whilst combining them with traditional face to face appointments.
"This is all just an excuse to do less work, isn’t it?"
This is another statement we've heard since the pandemic started, and to be frank has proven upsetting to many of us. To be clear, activity at the practice is the highest it has ever been. We had 23% more appointments in the last 3 months (April, May, June) than in the equivalent pre-pandemic period in 2019 (16,424 appointments in 2019, rising to 20,158 this year). That's without the addition of staff covering vaccine centres in Harrogate and Ripon. Suffice to say we have all been working extremely hard since all this started.
It is disappointing therefore that we have seen a significant increase is abuse directed towards our staff in the last 18 months, invariably relating to Covid-19 precautions.
We understand that the pandemic has been extremely difficult for everyone, and we share the wish that it would "all be over". We equally understand that some of the precautions listed above are inconvenient, distressing, or simply infuriating for some of you. However, we ask that you treat our staff with respect - they are simply trying to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all of our patients.