Experience of general practice: it has never been more important to hear from patients

This month, final invitations to take part in Europe’s largest health survey will be sent out to people across England. Dr Neil Churchill, Director of Patient Experience, explains why this year more than ever it is important to take part and tell us about the experiences of local NHS services.

Most of us have noticed that general practice has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. My own practice has introduced an e-consulting service and most of my interactions have been on the phone, although on one occasion, when I needed it, I was able to get tests at the practice in person. They are also very busy administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Primary care services have not stopped running during the pandemic. Over the 12 months to the end of January there were more than 275 million appointments in general practice across England, and more than half of all appointments in January were either the same or next day as they were scheduled. But for obvious reasons, changes have had to be made over that time to maintain safe and effective ways to see and treat patients.

We need to know which changes are working well and where things could be improved. This is the very reason why we need to be asking patients how services are working. The GP Patient Survey asks some of the people from more than 6,700 practices to comment on their experiences of making appointments, quality of services and more.

We know that appointments have changed drastically this year, with remote appointments being offered more than ever before, but this year’s survey will provide crucial information on how this is being received by patients. In some recent analysis by Ipsos MORI, using 2020 GP Patient Survey data, 86% of patients who last made a face-to-face appointment at their own practice rated the practice as good. However, those who had a remote appointment with their own practice were more positive than those who went to another general practice location (online appointments, 83% good; by telephone, 79%; compared with another general practice location, 76%). You can see the full infographic at Ipsos MORI’s website.

The GP Patient Survey doesn’t just show us the national picture of GP appointments though, it can also help us to understand inequalities in detail. This includes looking at access to and experience of GP services by groups of specific interest, such as people with caring responsibilities, specific long-term conditions and protected characteristics.

The survey generates really valuable information, and these are just a few examples of the insight gained. You can see more examples on our case studies page.

If you have been invited to complete the survey, please take part as the survey will be closing soon.

We invest in this survey because it’s important and helps the NHS to work with greater insight into our patients’ experiences and to improve the quality of primary care services. It is more important than ever that we hear from patients.

Thank you.

Dr Neil Churchill

Dr Neil Churchill is Director for Experience, Participation and Equalities at NHS England.

His brief includes insight and feedback, patient participation in decision-making, improvement programmes on cancer, learning disability and support for carers and national partnerships with volunteers and the voluntary sector.

Neil joined NHS England in 2013 after a 25 year career in the voluntary sector at organisations including Barnardo’s, Age Concern, Crisis and Asthma UK. He has been a Non-Executive Director for NHS South of England, an appointed member of the National Information Governance Board and a trustee of a number of charities across the UK.

Neil is a member of the Executive Board for the Beryl Institute, a change agent from the School for Change Agents and a member of Q, the quality improvement collaborative from the Health Foundation. He tweets as @neilgchurchill.