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Virtual GP appointments in Kent could stay post lockdown

Virtual health consultations run by GPs could be a long term legacy of the coronavirus crisis, a Kent health boss says.

Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group accountable officer Wilf Williams has said there has been a "major uptick" in patients across the county being seen by their local doctors on the phone or via video calls.

Could visiting your GP in person be a thing of the past?
Could visiting your GP in person be a thing of the past?

Mr Williams said the technological revolution had been largely welcomed by patients, but members of Kent County Council's (KCC) health and overview scrutiny committee (HOSC) disagreed during a public meeting yesterday.

Maidstone county councillor Dan Daley (Con), who said he has been unable to see his doctor in person since March, quizzed the senior health manager on the likelihood of allowing patients back into GP surgeries in the near future.

Speaking during yesterday's virtual council meeting, he said:"Physical contact between a doctor and their patient is an essential part of the service.

"When surgeries or individual medical centres are going to reopen properly is something that a lot of people will want to know."

However, Mr Williams said that thousands of Kent health staff are less keen on seeing their patients in person unless it is deemed necessary.

Wilf Williams
Wilf Williams

The accountable health officer, who has been in his post since February not long before Kent's eight CCGs merged into one, said: "I don't think we can give a date when everybody can go back and see their doctor as normal.

"I would hazard to say, although I understand the issues of access to technology for some people, that we do not want to go back to that."

Mr Williams pointed out that some GP surgeries do not have the space to cater for social distancing while adding that staff safety is paramount as the virus is more likely to transmit indoors and in confined spaces than outdside.

Coronavirus outbreaks at East Kent hospitals, such as Margate's QEQM, have prompted a five-day blitz of testing of the trust's 9,000 staff amid concerns of a rapid rise in the infection rate.

Mr Williams added: "Virtual appointments are a better way of delivering care in many instances for many people. Individual practices are looking at the risks.

"I would hazard to say, although I understand the issues of access to technology for some people, that we do not want to go back to that."

"It's not of interest to anybody, including patients, to be physically going to surgeries when they do not need to."

The NHS Kent and Medway CCG is planning to fully recover non-urgent health services between 2021 and 2022,a report published to the KCC committee has revealed. However the timescale could change with a second Covid wave.

Mr Williams added: "The scale of the enterprise is enormous and will take a considerable amount of time to get back to some form of normality."

To keep up-to-date with all the latest developments with your local hospitals and other health stories, click here.

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