Last year during the first wave of the pandemic the public stepped back, the NHS stepped up, there was a huge sense of gratitude and goodwill towards all the NHS and staff. Remember the Thursday night claps? This year it has been very different. We have felt under huge pressure in primary care, like never before, struggling to get to grips with delivering a safe and effective service in the face of huge pent-up demand, all whilst having to be covid secure and deliver the largest ever vaccine roll out. Despite doing our best and working our butts off, we and our staff seemed to have had to face more disgruntled and unhappy patients this year, and both patient complaints and clinical burnout have been on the rise.
So, the results of the Ipsos MORI poll The GP Patient Survey 2021 for England are very welcome and should provide both a real morale boost for us and our staff, reassurance that despite what some people may say we are doing a brilliant job and also a key reminder to our political masters not to take us for granted. The survey was carried out between January and April 2021, so during the peak of the winter second wave and a huge sample was analysed (n=850,000 patient surveys).
In terms of accessing us, 42% of patients said that they had avoided making a GP appointment in the previous 12 months either because they were worried about the burden on the NHS, or because they were worried about catching COVID-19. This certainly explains the pent-up demand we are seeing now. Worryingly, 11% also reported that they did not make an appointment because they found it too difficult. This confirms the fears that many have that automated and impersonal booking systems act as a barrier to some patients, most likely those in greatest need.
As for how we clinicians are doing, despite all the problems we are facing the overwhelming majority of patients (83%) described their overall experience of their GP practice as good. This figure was even up slightly compared to pre-pandemic.
The approval ratings for clinicals are staggeringly high: 96% of patients say that they have confidence in the last health professional that they saw and 94% that their needs were met at the consultation. I often feel that we don’t have enough time for our patients but ask our patients what they think and 89% say that we do give them enough time and are good at listening to them, 88% that we treat them with care and concern and that 93% are as involved in decisions about their care as they wish to be. With the big increase in mental health problems we are seeing, 86% say that the healthcare professional recognised and understood any mental health problems that they had. These are astonishing figures given the pressure that we have had to work under.
Things are not all perfect however. We know that continuity is important to both patient satisfaction and also to improving patient outcomes, yet only 45% of patients get to speak to their preferred GP always or a lot of the time which is down from pre-pandemic levels. As we shape the ‘new normal’ moving forward, improving continuity as well as providing a friendly, personalised service will be key.
These are fantastic results and really reinforce what an amazing job you are doing and how awesome you and your team are, despite the current pandemic pressures. I’d really recommending taking some time to look at your individual practice data, and you can compare to the national and CCG average. But, if you don’t get time, just remember the ‘take home’: you’re awesome!