Although many lockdown restrictions are easing, GPs are still having to follow strict national health and safety guidelines which require ongoing physical distancing in waiting rooms and enhanced cleaning between patient visits.
This limits the number of patients who can be seen on a daily basis and means appointments have to be staggered throughout the day.
However, local GP leads stress that quieter waiting rooms do not mean they are not continuing to support local patients and their families during the pandemic.
Dr Scott Williams, NHS Forth Valley’s Deputy Medical Director for Primary Care, 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 ten 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, local GP practices in Forth Valley remain open and the area’s health board is urging anyone who has concerns about their health, particularly symptoms which are worrying them, to seek help.
This may be the GP practice but assistance is also available from 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.
All information is handled with complete confidentiality and receptionists only ask questions to help direct patients to the most appropriate service, which in some cases may not be a GP.
If a face-to-face appointment is required, 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.