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NHS Ayrshire & Arran Statement – 02/06/2021

Across Ayrshire and Arran GP practice staff are working extremely hard to provide care to their patients and are now busier than ever before.  GP practices have never closed and have continued to be accessible to patients throughout the pandemic. All GP practices can be contacted Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 5.30pm.  

Many practices are not yet able to deliver the same level of service as they did before the pandemic and it is recognised this can be challenging and frustrating at times for patients.   

At the start of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, GP practices had to react quickly to ensure the safety of all patients and staff. National safety and infection control guidelines were introduced and are still in place to keep our communities safe, especially our workforce and vulnerable groups, including those who shielded.  This includes social distancing, the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), along with enhanced cleaning of patient areas every time a patient has been in a clinical space. This therefore limits the number of patients who can access the premises at the same time and reduces the number of face to face appointments available in the practice.  In addition, practice staff are also subject to test and protect notifications and with rising case numbers, more are being required to isolate which has a further impact on the availability of services.    

Practices have continued to adapt and are offering patients alternative ways to access services to meet increased demand. Waiting rooms may look quieter due to changes in the way practices have to function within Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines. The practices are working tirelessly to support patients through a range of types of consultation including phone, video, online, email and of course face to face when clinically necessary.  They are prioritising the patients who have the greatest clinical need and are the most vulnerable, and introducing measures to help limit the number of people in the practice at any one time for safety reasons.  

We are now taking forward a specific public engagement campaign to ensure the public are kept up to date on how GP practices are working and what services will look like as we move through the pandemic.

Craig McArthur, Director of East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership said, “We want to help patients access the services they need, but we have to do this safely.  GP practices are offering remote access via telephone and video consultations as well as electronic consultations via their website to ensure patients can speak to the person best suited to their needs. They are experiencing a very high volume of telephone calls and are trying to prioritise care to their most vulnerable patients. Face to face appointments have been available throughout the pandemic and continue to be offered if deemed clinically appropriate ensuring all safety protocols are adhered to.  

Most of the practices in Ayrshire and Arran now have highly skilled multi-disciplinary team members within the practice, including MSK Physiotherapists, Mental Health Practitioners and Clinical Pharmacy staff.  This means that patients are able to access appointments for these important members of the team with the assurance that if GP input is required after the consultation, the team member can seek advice from or consult with the GP about your care.  This is about getting patients the right care, at the right time, with the right individual and in the right place.”  

NHS Ayrshire & Arran have a range of services available locally, which may be more suited for patients to contact instead of their GP, such as an optician or community pharmacy. 

Through the Pharmacy First Plus service, a community pharmacist can provide assessment and treatment if appropriate for common clinical conditions (e.g. sore throats, earache, urinary tract infections) or refer patients onwards for continuing care.  Local Optician’s can treat and assess many eye conditions and refer onwards for continuing care if required. This ensures that patients are seen by the right person, at the right time, in the right place.  

Dr John Freestone, Associate Medical Director for Primary and Urgent Care Services said, “Patient care continues to remain the priority for GP Practices in NHS Ayrshire & Arran. To help practices safely care for those most in need, we are asking patients to consider community services or accessing self-help advice at www.nhsinform.scot prior to phoning their GP practice.  This will allow you to access the right supports more quickly and also help prevent practice phone lines becoming blocked, ensuring those most in need of clinical attention can get through.”

The COVID Assessment Centre based at University Hospital Crosshouse remains open for medical assessment and care for those patients displaying worsening COVID-19 symptoms.

Patients should not attend without an appointment.  If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or need urgent care or advice, please call NHS 24 on 111. 

For life threatening emergencies dial 999.