Northumberland senior general practitioners have issued a warning regarding the long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
And they expressed fear that vulnerable people might suffer from loneliness.
Dr Jane Lothian – who is the head of the Northumberland Local Medical Committee – said: “Practices have been extended beyond this pandemic. We all thought it was going to take three months. We now seem to be quickly moving into the third. year of it.
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“Then we face the onset of winter pressures and try to deal with the backlog. The overall situation is incredibly difficult.”
Dr Graham Syers, GP at Alnwick and Clinical Chairman of the Northumberland CCG, added that the pressures on GPs were having a huge impact.
He said: “There are people who ‘saved’ things during the pandemic. Then there is a lot more going on around Covid. There are the more direct effects of having Covid.
“Then we see more mental health issues than before.”
Doctors both spoke about how Covid-19 has exacerbated already worrisome trends in the pressure facing community doctor surgeries – and highlighted a growing number of people reporting mental health issues as a concern.
Dr Syers said: “If you had a mental health issue that existed before the pandemic, chances are it was exacerbated. And dealing with all of the stresses from Covid has resulted in more anxiety and depression.
“There has also been a lot of good communication, with people like cricketers and others in the media, which makes it easier for people to talk about mental health – which is really good.”
Dr Syers said that with more and more people waiting longer for hospital procedures, the pressure on doctors continued to increase.
He also said he felt the pandemic had “focused people’s minds” on their health, and warned that sometimes GPs “just don’t have the answers” to complex medical complaints.
In one of the UK’s most rural areas, the duo both spoke about how worrying the impact of Covid-19 on social isolation is too.
Dr Syers said: “We know that a large part of a person’s health is affected by their social situation. People have been isolated and we know that loneliness itself can be as dangerous as any. what.”
Dr Lothian continued, “Loneliness is in itself as dangerous as heart failure for an elderly person.”
The couple said the introduction of “social prescribing” – when GPs highlight community services or activities that can help someone’s health – was one way to address this problem.
The pandemic has seen a much greater use of technology in medical offices than ever before. Dr Syers said that, amid the panic over the number of patients getting face-to-face appointments, this should be welcomed.
“We have moved to using a lot of technologies and this has allowed us to be more available – to have more access to their own notes and to contact us electronically when needed.
“We do video consultations, and we always do face-to-face consultations. All firms do face-to-face consultations when necessary, but this has helped us to be more efficient.
“And of course, we have to make sure that changing the way we do things doesn’t alienate people who don’t have the right technology.”
He said a key part of incorporating new ways of working was making sure to speak with patients to make sure they would be seen in the best possible way.
Dr Syers said practice staff were well trained to sort out patients calling for appointments and if there was a need for a patient to be seen in person, it would happen.
He added, “We will often ask patients for a phone conversation to make sure we get it right.
“We expect to have a word with someone before deciding if they should be seen in person. Often times, if you’ve spoken to someone, it becomes clear if we need to see them.
“What this means is that we can spend more time with these people who really need us for longer.”
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