Day in the life of a West Essex GP post COVID-19

GP Yvonne offers a behind the scenes insight…

Coronavirus has brought on major changes to the way we all live our lives. That includes how we see our GPs.

Our GP surgeries have made vital changes to the way they work to keep staff and patients safe. What is important to remember is that GP practices are very much open to hear from you. If you have a medical enquiry or need, it is important you telephone your practice in much the same way you did before.

The difference now is that you will be triaged on the telephone – which means a member of staff will ask you a few questions to work out who you may need to speak to and how. In many cases you’ll speak to a GP on the telephone or offer you a video consultation. In a few cases, where a GP needs to see you face-to-face, you will be given an appointment to come to the practice.

Here, Dr Yvonne Girgis-Hanna, partner at Crocus Medical Practice which has surgeries in Saffron Walden and Great Chesterford, sets out what an average day looks like now – and discusses the ways in which COVID-19 may have prompted a few unexpected benefits.

Yvonne has been a GP for 15 years.

7.30am – I usually get into the surgery at about this time and get ready for when we start to take phone calls and online consultations.

I spend part of my day looking at the blood test results from the day before and completing any tasks which may have been left by colleagues in reception.

There probably isn’t much more time during the day than there was before, but not seeing patients face-to-face for the most point has obviously been a major change.

8.30am – This is when the telephone consultations begin. I am either calling direct on the phone or by video link.

If you can take any positives from the pandemic at all, one has to be the introduction and wide use of technology. We have wanted to put this in place for a long time and now we have it. We have double-screened computers and can also do video calls and text messaging as a matter of course.

This means we can stay in touch with patients via text messaging. This is really helpful when updating them about their medicines. We can now telephone patients rather than ask patients to make an appointment and come into the surgery, which they currently cannot do unless it is absolutely necessary.

Telephone consultations are ideal for those who are working or have young children because you can make the appointment and then carry on with what you are doing until we call without having to go anywhere.

But for older patients who might not be tech savvy, we understand this can be difficult.

Telephone consultations also can take just as long as face-to-face ones because we have to find other ways to investigate what might be wrong.

I will probably deal with around 18 phone calls during the morning as well as seeing four or five patients.

1pm – I work until about this time and then we have our virtual staff meeting.

Microsoft Teams video conferencing has made it possible for us to do this without people coming in and it has been a very useful tool. I also look after a care home and have daily meetings with the staff there in this way.Then I might go out and see a patient who just cannot do a video call or come in.

Many older patients are very scared about COVID-19 – some have not actually come out of isolation since March. A lot of the contact is actually done by professional paramedics but I need to debrief them.

3pm – Back at the surgery I start doing calls again which will normally take me up to about 7.30pm or beyond. The beauty of the calls are they are fluid. There isn’t any waiting around. We also no longer have the issue of missed appointments because we are telephoning them directly.

There are still the occasions when we call and there is no answer but our policy, unless it is a child or vulnerable adult, is to call once or twice and then leave it if there is no answer. If we can’t get through we text the patient and they usually answer the second time.

7.30pm – As a practice the GPs here are working two, three days at the most and then taking a rest day. We would be exhausted if we didn’t do that.

I am still sometimes calling patients at 8pm. They are surprises because there is a misconception that because the surgeries are closed to patients after a certain time, we are not working. I wouldn’t say the length of my working day has shortened really, but I am probably making calls or texts later.

It is important patients know their surgeries are working, just as hard, it is just in a different way.

A wide variety of services are running for patients, including community optometrists, and cervical screening.

If you have been invited to have a flu jab, your GP practice will have taken measures to do this in a quick and safe way. It is important you have your flu jab to keep you and others safe.