Open Letter to Patients

Dear Patients,  

You may be aware that there has been a great deal of patient and media interest in our practices and Group as we seek to cope with a huge surge in patient demand. This is an issue that is not unique to Lakeside Healthcare Group.  

Pressure on staff, services and systems are being faced by our Primary Care colleagues across the country, and agencies, including the British Medical Association and Clinical Commissioning Groups have been vocal in their support of the healthcare profession.  

Firstly, we want to commend our staff for their utter commitment and professionalism throughout what has been the most intense, emotional and uncharted period in the NHS's history. Our surgeries have never been closed and we have continued to deliver healthcare to our patients, either during face to face appointments for clinically urgent cases, or with digital and telephone consultations. Face to face contacts have still made up more than 50% of our contacts since March 2020. Restrictions caused by the pandemic have meant GPs across the country have had to work differently to keep both staff and patients safe whilst following NHS England and Public Health England guidance.  

Not all patients need to see a GP, and the triage system, introduced at the start of the pandemic,  is the most effective way of ensuring access to healthcare while safeguarding GP appointments for those with appropriate clinical need. This system works. It will continue to be the way that we operate, even when social distancing measures ease and we are able to safely increase access to our surgeries.  

Increasing demand:  

As has been the case across the country, since the start of this year, there has been increased demand for our services and thousands more patients per week are contacting us. As an example, in April our Corby hub received 4,000 patient contacts per week, which rose to around 7,000 per week in May. This trend is common to all of our practices, leading to huge pressures on our phone systems, appointment capacity and, crucially, on our staff themselves.     

The issues:  

Key issues have been how quickly calls can be answered and the fact that appointments are booked rapidly, meaning patients may have to wait until the next day and start the process again. We are addressing this as a priority.  

Our solutions:  

New telephone systems: We are installing new telephone systems at all our sites over the coming months. The new system has call back functionality as just one of the additional features which should reduce queuing times.  

Staffing: Our employees are our greatest asset, however, sometimes they retire or relocate. We have a programme of recruitment, training and development and so, although you may not be able to request a specific clinician, be assured that you will be dealt with appropriately by one of our team which includes skilled health care professionals including GPs, nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists, health care assistants, social prescribers and health and wellbeing coaches. The range of staff that we deploy means that a GP consultation may not be the first, only or most effective answer to your healthcare need. We all work as a team to ensure the best care is provided for our patients.  

There is a national shortage of GPs, and the recruitment process may take months as they need to serve notice at their current practice. Despite this, we have appointed new GPs and other staff who we look forward to welcoming to Lakeside Healthcare Group very soon.  

Online digital consultation platform: The majority of our practices utilise online platforms that allow patients to access advice and or contact us if required. We are looking at developing this area of access further, particularly to those practices that currently do not offer this facility.    

Consistent appraisal: Our Practice Managers are very experienced, work closely with their clinical colleagues and constantly monitor supply and demand, including appointment capacity. Where they can respond in a site-specific way to improve systems and processes they will do. They also meet on a regular basis so any strategy that has been successful in one site can be assessed for suitability at another.  

Why your response matters:  

Providing the best quality healthcare is our prime motivation. As you can see, the current situation is far from ideal. That is why we are asking for your help while our solutions are embedded.  

  • Please consider whether you need to consult the practice. Some issues can be addressed through simple remedies and first aid, self-care at home, a visit to a pharmacy or a call to 111.  
  • Please use an electronic consultation platform, if you are able to, as your first option for contacting us.  
  • Please be aware that the busiest time on our telephone systems is 8am to 10am. We suggest that, if you are contacting us for a routine enquiry or are not seeking an appointment, we will be able to address your concern more quickly outside times of peak demand.  
  • Please respect our staff. We know that queuing on the phone is incredibly frustrating but our front line staff, including receptionists, are here to help. Verbal or physical abuse against any of our staff will not be tolerated. The vast majority treat our staff with respect, but abusive and confrontational patients have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing and morale, especially if this behaviour is encountered on a regular or daily basis.  
  • Please make your views known by joining the Patient Participation Group which allows for constructive feedback between the practice and patients in an official and regulated capacity. We will work with our PPG to prioritise where resources should be directed.  
  • Please consider your public response. We know that many patients wish to express concerns, however we would urge them to contact us via our official complaints system, rather than engaging in online debate.  

And finally …  

This has been a long and hard journey for all of us. At the start of the pandemic the nation took to its doorsteps to applaud NHS staff. After 15 months of keeping our practices open, delivering more than 100,000 Covid vaccinations and continuing to work on Covid trials through our Research and Innovation Hub, things seem to have changed.  

We are trying to be as transparent as possible with the demand we are facing  

We are trying to safeguard the wellbeing of our staff, who are becoming increasingly demoralised  

We are realistic about the issues and are implementing as much as we can, as quickly as possible  

Thank you for your continued patience and understanding. We remain committed to our mission of being 'A Caring Partnership for Life.'  

Yours sincerely,

Dr Sara Hall and the Stamford Team

Published: Jun 25, 2021

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