NHS Lanarkshire has turned to tech as demand for services continues to outstrip resources, with GP workloads increasing by 30 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

Medical staff are making extensive use of telephone and NHS ‘Near Me’ video calls to enable GPs to carry out virtual appointments which patients can ‘attend’ from home.

According to the health board, this minimises potential exposure to the virus for both staff and service users.

It also frees up “vital space” to assist the most vulnerable patients and those with the highest levels of medical need – for whom face-to-face appointments are continuing to made available.

As well as the increase in demand for services, GP practices in the area have been forced to sustain high levels of staff absences due to their employees isolating after coming into close contact with patients who have tested positive for Covid-19.

In addition, many “routine” procedures such as screening are taking longer due to physical distancing restrictions. This, the health board says, is compounded by more space being required due to infection control.

Appointments and consultations will continue to primarily take place remotely as opposed to face-to-face.

Dr Linda Findlay, medical director, South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership, highlighted the current pressures on GP services and underlined how the public can assist.

She said: “The health service is experiencing more pressure than at any other point in its history. GP practices in Lanarkshire are busier than ever, reporting an increase of around 30 per cent in calls compared with pre-pandemic levels. Attendances at emergency departments are also at record levels as people are attending both services even with mild and minor conditions.

“It’s important to remember that all services in the community, GP surgeries and hospitals are currently operating differently and at different capacities due to infection prevention and control measures. GPs have been open and have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic, not only delivering general practice but also vaccinating our older residents across Lanarkshire.

“In addition practice nurses and other healthcare professionals have also been involved in the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Lanarkshire. This has been one of the biggest, and most rapidly evolving, logistical exercises any of us has ever been involved in and has been a very high Scottish Government priority.

“It’s testament to our GPs that, despite this vital work and accompanying pressures, face-to-face appointments have continued to be made available for our most vulnerable people. We have very quickly had to find new ways of working during the pandemic, however the commitment has always been to prioritise the sickest and most vulnerable in our communities.

“To enable this, we have made good use of telephone and Near Me virtual video consultations as our absolute number one priority is, and always will be, about protecting and saving lives. Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will take years, not weeks or months. Going forward our GP services will be different and cannot return to the way they were before the pandemic.

“We know this has been a hugely challenging time for people with ill health; GPs and their staff are truly grateful for the support and understanding they have received from our communities. One of the ways you can help us is to be prepared to answer questions our reception staff may ask you. I understand some people are reluctant to discuss personal matters with GP reception staff, however they are a vital part of the health care team and ask questions to direct patients to the best support.

“GP staff are skilled in ensuring people are seen by the most appropriate healthcare staff and ensuring GPs can prioritise the most vulnerable patients. In recent years GP practices and their networks have evolved to include nurses, advanced nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physiotherapists and link workers. This modernisation was in place before the pandemic to ensure Lanarkshire residents saw the right person at the right time rather than wait for GP appointments.

“We have carried out a high degree of work in recent years to empower people with long term health conditions to self-manage their health with our support in the community. It’s important that people continue to do this where there they can. Our health services are open and we are here if needed. Please work together with us to make sure you get the right care, in the right place, at the right time by the appropriate health professional for your needs.”

To access the appropriate healthcare to meet their needs people should:

  • use the NHS inform website – www.nhsinform.scot – to access advice on common symptoms, guidance for self-help and where to go if further medical care is needed;
  • contact their local GP practice during the day for an appointment or over-the-phone advice; or
  • call 111, day or night, when they think they need A&E but it is not life-threatening or during out of hours when they are too ill to wait for their GP practice to open, or for worsening symptoms of COVID-19.