We know it has been a really difficult year for many of our patients with regard to concerns for health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, impact of social isolation, loss of loved ones and financial stress. We thought it would be helpful to provide a Practice update at this time.
Accessing Advice and new telephone system
Our administrative team have been working hard to respond to patient queries. Over the past year we have operated with a 'Phone First' policy in order to facilitate distancing and keep our patients and staff safe. Fortunately we have avoided any major COVID outbreaks as a result and have been able to continue to deliver medical services throughout the pandemic. We have found the triage system has worked well and many queries have been optimally managed with a telephone consultation or using our new 'accuRx' technology to send in photographs. Alongside this, we have continued to see a large number of patients face to face as indicated. We have also continued to carry out home visits for those requiring palliative care, or those who are housebound due to frailty. We have taken on board feedback from patients who have struggled to get through by phone and are currently in the process of installing a new telephone system. We hope that once up to full capacity it will enable easier access for our patients.
In recent weeks we have found ourselves increasingly overwhelmed by patient demand, and have had to cap the numbers of patients phoning for routine queries in order to be able to maintain patient safety. We do appreciate your patience in this regard and ask that you speak kindly to our Staff who have unfortunately occasionally found themselves on the receiving end of abusive language. Of course, if you phone with an urgent query they will do their best to assist in a timely way.
Our Treatment Room has continued to function throughout the pandemic - carrying out bloods, providing dressings, and giving injections such as those required for treatment of cancer. They have done a wonderful job, wearing PPE throughout the day and cleaning rooms and equipment between each patient. In order to keep the Treatment room functioning, unfortunately we have had to say no to virtual hospital clinics who have asked us to do bloods for them as we don't have capacity to facilitate this extra work. If your hospital clinic has offered a phlebotomy Hub appointment we would be grateful if you could avail of this as it will help ongoing availability of appointments.
We have also continued to carry out core GP work throughout the pandemic such as cervical screening, and Childhood vaccinations. We are in the process of restarting routine reviews for COPD and asthma patients. Diabetic reviews are ongoing.
We have worked hard to continue to see patients who have had symptoms requiring investigation. This has been particularly difficult given that hospital waiting lists are extending up to 9 years in some Specialties. We have been enormously frustrated on behalf of our patients, try our best to advocate for them, and of course continue to support many who have been struggling to manage their complex health conditions.
We have continued to give advice to our patients who present with an acute health condition. This has been challenging when patients present with COVID-19 symptoms as we must ensure that we are providing a safe environment for all our patients. Since April 2020, we have been working alongside other GPs in Beechall Covid Assessment Centre. This is a Primary care facility serving the Belfast area for those with potential COVID infection who need a clinical assessment.
We have supported many over the past year who have found themselves struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition, we set up an arrangement with our CBT Therapist, Peter Leitch, to be able to speak to our patients on a once off basis and have received good feedback regarding this service. We also updated our Resources page on this website and hope it has been a useful signpost to community based/ online support.
GPs across NI have delivered a significant proportion of the COVID vaccination programme (689,000 vaccinations to date), in addition to delivering ongoing medical services. As a Practice, we have been very fortunate to have had access to Knock Presbyterian Church. We would like to thank them again for their hard work and willingness to help. Church volunteers have turned up to direct traffic in rain, hail or shine. To date we are proud to have delivered over 3200 vaccinations to our patients to protect them from COVID-19. GPs have now handed over the workload for younger cohorts to the Trust teams to complete.
We are delighted to let you know that our Health Centre is in the process of renovation. This is much needed work and both patients and staff will benefit from new flooring, lighting, heating and painting. However, there will be significant impact over the next few months as this work is carried out and we try to function within a reduced portion of the Practice. Again, your patience is appreciated in this regard.
Finally, as we look ahead and consider how best to deliver services, we appreciate the value of patient input.
We would be grateful if you could take the time to complete this anonymised patient survey to help inform our ongoing decisions.
Many thanks for taking the time to read through our Practice update.