Healthwatch insight highlights pressures on GPs and A&E

July 19, 2021
  • People experiencing delays in obtaining GP appointments going to A&E instead.
  • There is low public awareness of alternatives to A&E, such as Pharmacies and NHS111 First.  
  • Public information about which services they should seek medical support from can be inconsistent and challenging to access or understand.
  • Sussex NHS Commissioners are proposing changes to GP appointment systems, and better promotion of alternative services.
  • Healthwatch will work with Commissioners to co-design messages which GP practices can use on their websites and on phone messages.

Healthwatch in Sussex is today publishing a report that shares its insight on the pressures being faced by local health services across the county. Our report draws together findings from 20 publications and data sources and highlights increased demands on GP practices and Emergency Departments (A&E) in recent months.

Healthwatch in Sussex said today:

“Research undertaken by Healthwatch shows that limited capacity in some services is having a knock-on effect on others. We found that some people who are experiencing delays in obtaining GP appointments are going to A&E instead. We have also identified limited public awareness of the alternatives to A&E such as Pharmacies and NHS111 First, even though these services may be able to provide appropriate support depending on people’s needs.  

Our evidence suggests an ongoing preference amongst some for face-to-face rather than remote appointments which is why some people may choose to attend Emergency Departments. We have also found that information provided to the public about which services they should seek medical support from and when, can be inconsistent and challenging to access or understand.”

Healthwatch has made seven recommendations that respond to these issues. These relate to improved access for patients, clearer information on which services people can access and when, and ensuring consistency of signposting across the health and care system. These changes can help ensure that patients are able to access the support they need as quickly and simply as possible.

Sussex NHS Commissioners who commission GP services across Sussex have provided the following response to the report:

“Sussex NHS Commissioners would like to thank Healthwatch in Sussex for their report; we know that there have been issues for some of our patients in accessing GP care, and we are working with GP practices to take action to try to make sure patients can get appropriate advice and care quickly and easily.

Feedback from the public about access to health services is important in ensuring we continue to make changes and improve information and routes to access, in order that people can get the right care, in the right place at the right time – and in a way that works for them.” 

Sussex NHS Commissioners are undertaking work in the following areas:

  • Supporting GP practices to move their phone systems to “cloud based” systems over the next year. This will greatly improve access and waiting times.  Depending on the system chosen, this could allow patients to be called back to book an appointment rather than waiting on hold; video consultations; and support for GP practice staff who may need to self-isolate to work remotely.
  • Sharing information with the public to encourage them to call 111 as a first step for medical advice when it’s not an emergency or when their GP practice is closed. Similarly identifying how they could be helped by an alternative service such as a pharmacy or urgent treatment centre.
  • Supporting people to register with a GP if they are having problems in doing so (No one will be left without a local GP).
  • Working with Healthwatch to design clear messages which GP practices can use on their websites and on phone messages to give information to patients.

This report has also been shared with the Sussex Integrated Care System (ICS) and members of the pan-Sussex System Pressures Task and Finish Group. Healthwatch in Sussex (Brighton & Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex) will continue to work in partnership with them and individual providers to monitor the experiences of patients and the public in accessing health and care services locally and explore how ongoing development may be delivered.



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