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The changing face of General Practice

Doctor and patient relationships have changed beyond recognition since the advent of the NHS 70 years ago, Chris Child charts that journey.

Before the NHS was created, workers on low pay had free access to a GP but this did not cover their wives or children. Relatives invariably had to pay for their treatment and, if they couldn’t afford it, they went without. In some cases Friendly Societies stepped in – but not always.

The 18,000 GPs back in 1948 were almost entirely men, and half of them worked single-handed, often running their practices from their own homes.

A patient’s contact with their doctor’s surgery in 1948 – to book an appointment or get a prescription – had to be either in person or by letter or telegram because few people owned a telephone back then.

You usually turned up and waited. It was not until the 1960s that appointment systems were introduced and, under the NHS Plan, targets were set to get patients to see a health professional within 24 hours and a GP within 48 hours.

Viewing your patient records was completely out of the question.

Fast-forward to the present day and patients mostly have modern, multi-disciplinary practices which provide a range of care services including minor surgery.

And now, through GP Online Services, patients can book their appointment, order a repeat prescription or view their record online, saving time for them and GP practice staff – and offering 24/7 access even when the surgery is closed.

GP Online Services has been transforming the doctor-patient relationship, reflecting the NHS’s ambition to embrace technology as part of its drive to offer a modern, convenient and responsive service to patients, their families and carers.

It’s already having a positive effect for people like long-term condition patient Graeme Johnston from Buckinghamshire, who goes online to check his test results and is feeling the benefit of this free access.

He previously had to visit the practice in Buckingham to get his results. “By going online suddenly I could see the whole scope of my results when it suited me and find out that all the information was there from the past test results of my illness,” he said.

GPs are feeling the benefit too, with 97 per cent of practices in England having patients that use online services.

Greater Manchester GP, Dr Stephen Hastings, goes even further by saying that GP Online Services has had a significant impact on his practice. “Patients using GP online services have revolutionised our practice,” he said. “If you can stop the phones from ringing, even for a minute, by shifting work online, that has to be a good thing.”

As people now do most of life’s business online – banking, doing their shopping or ordering a meal via a computer, tablet or mobile phone – it’s an example of how the NHS is encouraging patients to use more of that technology to take control of their health care too.

The NHS – still moving with the times 70 years after it began transforming the health care of the nation.

Chris Child

Chris Child is Communications Manager for NHS England’s Primary Care Digital Transformation team.

He was a journalist and health correspondent with a major regional newspaper before working for over 10 years as a Communications Director for the Government in the North East.

He latterly led on communications for a national heart charity.

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