Although many lockdown restrictions are easing, they are still having to follow strict national health and safety guidelines which require ongoing physical distancing in the waiting rooms and enhanced cleaning between patient visits.
However, local GPs stress that quieter waiting rooms do not mean they are not continuing to support local patients and their families during the ongoing pandemic.
NHS Forth Valley’s deputy medical director for Primary Care, Dr Scott Williams, said: “We are aware of complaints surrounding GP services and are sorry that some people feel it is difficult to contact us, but we really are doing our best to respond to as many calls as possible.
"NHS Forth Valley is continuing to experience high demand for health and social care services with GP workloads increasing by approximately 20 per cent compared to before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In addition, some GP practices have been affected badly by Covid-related absence, either with illness, shielding or quarantining and even one or two clinical staff having an unplanned absence of 10 days or more can cause major problems providing a service.
“We know this has been a hugely challenging time for everyone and GPs and their staff really appreciate the support and understanding of their patients during the ongoing pandemic.”
Although not all GP practices are working in exactly the same way, all local GP practices in Forth Valley remain open and anyone who has concerns about their health, particularly symptoms which are worrying them, should seek help. This may be the GP practice, but assistance is also available from local dentists, opticians and pharmacies.
Anyone who needs more urgent healthcare advice or treatment can also call NHS 24 on 111, day or night as staff can arrange for them to speak to a local healthcare professional who can organise an appointment at the Minor Injuries Unit in Stirling or the new Urgent Care Centre in Forth Valley Royal Hospital, if required.
GP practice staff are on hand to answer questions, offer advice and arrange for an initial telephone or video consultation with a GP or other member of the practice team.
If a face-to-face appointment is required then patients will be given a scheduled appointment time to attend the practice.
Some GP practices are asking patients to email pictures which can be particularly useful when diagnosing rashes and other skin conditions. Practices are catching up with chronic disease clinics that have been postponed due to the pandemic and providing increasing numbers of cervical screening, joint injection and contraceptive implant appointments.
Dr Williams added: “In recent years, GP practices have evolved to offer services from a wider range of healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists, mental health nurses, advanced nurse practitioners and pharmacists.
"This ensures Forth Valley residents can see the right person, with the right skills first time, and in many cases, avoid having to wait for a GP appointment.
"You can also arrange an appointment direct with these healthcare professionals, you don’t have to see your GP first.
“One of the ways you can also help is by answering the questions GP reception staff may ask you when you call.
"I understand some people are reluctant to discuss personal matters with GP
reception staff, however they are a vital part of the healthcare team and ask these questions to help direct patients to the most appropriate member of the practice team.
“We had to find new ways of working during the pandemic very quickly, however the commitment has always been to prioritise the sickest and most vulnerable in our communities. To enable this, we have made good use of telephone and Near Me virtual video consultations as our absolute number one priority is, and always will be, about supporting our patients and our local
“Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will take time and we would ask people to be patient and support local practice staff as they continue to do their best to deliver high quality local health services.”