Freedom to focus on patients behind rise in satisfaction during pandemic, says GP leader

More flexibility around appointments and the removal of tick-box targets may explain a rise in patient satisfaction during the pandemic - and could pave the way for general practice to move on from the rigid 10-minute consultation model, the BMA's top GP has said.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

Patient satisfaction with GP services has hit its highest point in three years despite the pressures of the pandemic, according to results of the latest GP patient survey published this week.

Reacting to the patient survey findings, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that the rise was a 'real testament to the incredibly hard work that GP practices across the country have put in over what has been an unprecedented pandemic'.

But he said flexibility for practices created by the suspension of QOF and other targets during the pandemic - along with the freedom to deliver care through a greater mix of remote and face-to-face appointments had likely contributed to increased satisfaction.

Patient satisfaction

Dr Vautrey said general practice in future could learn from changes adopted in the pandemic and shift away from 'packed waiting rooms' and a rigid 10-minute consultation model to 'fewer, but better quality GP consultations'.

He said it was extremely good news to see that patient satisfaction had risen over such a challenging period - and showed that despite 'all the negative media messaging we've seen in recent months', patients were clearly receiving a good service from general practice.

Dr Vautrey said practices had done their 'level best' to maintain services for patients despite the challenges of the pandemic, including adapting to a different type of service model with re-shaped forms of access to services.

He said: 'Patients have clearly understood why that's necessary, and appreciated what practices have been doing, and that they have continued to be able to provide so many with that really good level of care.'

Flexibility

But the Leeds GP pointed to the fact that practices had been able to provide services in a more flexible way during the pandemic as a key factor likely to have contributed to a rise in patient satisfaction - and said this was a change that general practice and NHS England must learn from.

He said: 'Rather than the more traditional pattern of a whole set of patients with 10-minute consultations in a rigid way, the arrangements we have now have offered many practices the option to offer a greater degree of flexibility. Some patients have had longer consultations on the day, or telephone triage first, then arrange to see the patient often within a few hours of that initial consultation on the phone - and it's done in a length of time appropriate for that particular patient's needs.

'We are seeing a greater degree of flexibility within the provision of appointments and that is something that many patients appreciate.'

Dr Vautrey added: 'One of the many lessons we need to take forward from the pandemic is to avoid going back to the days of packed waiting rooms which become breeding grounds for infections. Even before COVID-19 there were many other respiratory infections that patients potentially left the building with, rather than came in with.

10-minute consultations

'We need to avoid that situation coming back, but we also need to avoid the pressure on large numbers of 10-minute face-to-face consultations that left both GPs and some patients dissatisfied. We need to offer probably fewer but better quality GP consultations, so that we both manage the workload pressures GPs are under, but also enable them to feel more fulfilled when they are delivering patient consultations. These survey results do demonstrate that seems to be happening.'

Dr Vautrey said that the patient survey - carried out between January and March this year - also reflected the relaxation of some enhanced services, and suspension of QOF indicators in place at that time. 'We were genuinely allowing practices to operate in the best way they felt was appropriate for their patients,' he said.

He said the impact of this flexibility on patient satisfaction strengthened the case for an end to micromanagement of the profession - a change the BMA has called for in meetings with ministers.

The patient survey found that 83% of patients felt their overall experience of GP services was good - the highest figure recorded since 2018. The survey also found a sharp rise in the proportion of patients who rated their overall experience as 'very good', with 48.2% of patients giving their practice this score - up nearly five percentage points compared with 2020.

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