AskMyGP May 2021

We started using AskMyGP in April 2020, at the start of the pandemic. It transformed our triage system, allowing patients to submit queries to the practice online, avoiding the telephone queuing that made accessing our GP services difficult. It allowed patients to submit queries whenever it suited them, including evenings, overnight and weekends.

In November we were forced to take the difficult decision to close the system over weekends. This was explained on this page, which also illustrates the problems with some data.

In May there was an upsurge in demand, as the population started to feel the relaxation of the Covid lockdown, and we struggled to cope. Many patients had delayed seeking help for longstanding and more complex problems, due to the lockdown. This led to an increase in the number of queries, and many of the queries presented multiple problems. We accept that this is completely reasonable, but still demands a lot of our time. We also received many queries from patients about their positions on waiting lists, which are at an all time high as routine hospital services have still not resumed.

We also faced the problem that the easier access to our services via AskMyGP led to requests for problems that were very minor in nature and could have been addressed either by simple self-care or by seeking advice from a local pharmacist. Patients were also presenting very much earlier in the course of minor illnesses, such as sore throats, coughs and cystitis, often within the first hour or two of symptoms. Medical intervention so early in the course of an illness is completely inappropriate, as many of these will get better with no intervention, and it’s impossible for us to predict which patients are the small minority who will end up needing treatment.

The practice was short staffed due to a combination of doctors taking much needed annual leave, a doctor who was called for jury service and sickness among other members of the team. Doctors are no longer exempt from jury service and cannot claim for locum expenses. Locum GPs are not only expensive but are rarely available.

There really is only a finite amount of work we can do in a day, and our only option was to further restrict access to AskMyGP. Prior to using the system, we accepted telephone triage requests from 8am until 11am every working day, switching to emergencies only if demand exceeded our capacity before 11. We’ve adjusted our AskMyGP times to close the system to new requests from 12:30pm most days, but again closing it off earlier if demand exceeds capacity. Excluding days when we’re especially understaffed, the AskMyGP system is open for non-emergency queries from 6:30pm Monday to Thursday.

We ask our patients to bear with us and hope this surge in demand will be temporary. In the meantime, we ask that you help us to help you:

  • Try to avoid submitting multiple or complex non-urgent queries on Mondays which are always by far our busiest day.
  • If in doubt about whether you really need to consult a doctor about a new problem, check for self help advice on the NHS website, or speak to your pharmacist.
  • If you’re worried about your waiting time for a hospital appointment or operation, please check with the hospital yourself first. You can telephone the main switchboard and ask to speak to waiting lists, who can give an indication where you are on the waiting list.
    We are unable to influence your waiting time, asking us to send expedite letters is generally pointless unless there has been a significant change in your condition since you were placed on the waiting list.
  • If you’re able to, please do submit your query yourself (or via a proxy) online. While some people prefer just telephoning and giving the receptionist their details, reducing the number of telephone calls means that those with urgent problems are able to get through much quicker and frees up staff time.
  • If you think a photo might help, please do attach one to your AskMyGP query. This is very simple to do and we can often diagnose skin lesions, rashes, eye problems etc. if we’re sent a good quality photo. Most camera phones are capable of producing excellent photos, just make sure there’s plenty of light, that the camera is close enough and that the photo is in focus.
  • If you’ve requested that we telephone you back, please make sure you’ve given us the correct number and that your phone is switched on. Having to make multiple attempts to telephone someone back slows us down a lot.