Fears over COVID-19 inequality as patients' confidence in GP visits returns

Patients are increasingly confident in visiting GP practices despite COVID-19, but many remain uneasy and heightened fears among BAME groups could increase inequalities, a poll reveals.

GP consultations (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)
GP consultations (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

Almost 90% of people taking part in a Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI survey said they would feel comfortable using local GP services. Just 10% of 2,246 respondents said they felt uneasy, down from 20% in May.

People with a disability were more likely to feel uncomfortable accessing their GP - 16% compared with 10% overall. Fewer people in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups also said they would be 'very comfortable' visiting GP surgeries - 41% compared with 52% overall.

Report authors have argued that public confidence in using services must be improved to ensure that the NHS can protect patients and staff as winter approaches and COVID-19 cases increase.

COVID-19 risk

The risk of catching or being exposed to COVID-19 was the reason given by 53% of those who said that they would feel uncomfortable visiting GP services. Around one in 10 (11%) would not feel comfortable accessing their GP because they were not sure they’d get an appointment.

Of those who accessed a health service since lockdown began, almost two-thirds used their GP practice (61%) in July, up from 56% in May. Around three quarters thought that GP services were managing well at present.

People in BAME groups were also less likely to report having used a health service since the beginning of lockdown - 36% compared to 42% of the population as a whole.

Senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation Tim Gardner said a ‘significant number of people’ remained uneasy about using services, despite an improvement.

BAME community

He said: ‘The fact that people with a disability and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to feel uncomfortable is of particular concern. If this unease deters people from seeking care for serious health conditions, the existing inequalities already laid bare by COVID-19 could be exacerbated further.

‘If people are unwell and need treatment, it is important they feel confident enough and receive the right support to access local health care services. Otherwise we risk people with potentially serious conditions going without necessary treatment for fear of being exposed to COVID-19.

Mr Gardner added the government and NHS needed to do more to reassure and support the groups hardest hit by COVID-19 to access essential treatment and care.

Official figures for daily positive COVID-19 tests show that close to 3,000 positive tests were reported by labs across the UK on both 6 and 7 September - the highest daily totals reported since May.

Infection control

BMA GP committee workforce Dr Krishna Kasaraneni argued patients from all communities must be assured that they can access face-to-face appointments in a safe environment. He said: 'GPs work hard to make sure that this service is always safely available for those who need it, particularly for people who have no access to, or struggle to use, digital technology.

'Clearer communication from government to the public about how to stay safe – including through vaccination for flu and for COVID-19 when this becomes available - more effective local testing and track and trace services.'

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'NHS Test and Trace is working, our capacity is the highest it has ever been and our laboratories are processing more than 1m tests a week.

'We are seeing a significant demand for tests but if you have symptoms we urge you to get tested. New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily and you can help protect yourself if you wash your hands, cover your face and make space.

'We are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, as well as prioritising at-risk groups and we recently announced new laboratory facilities and new technology to process results even faster.'

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