Enormous drop in GP appointments significantly deteriorating patients’ health.
Nearly 27 million GP appointments have been lost since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, new figures from the NHS show.
According to NHS Digital data, there were 26.7 million fewer GP appointments in England between March and August this year than there were during the same period in 2019. This stark reality, Cancer Research UK says, could result in a significant number of additional cancer deaths.
The charity says delays in specialist referrals could lead to an additional 35,000 avoidable deaths at the hands of cancer. This is because more than 350,000 people who would normally have been urgently referred to a cancer specialist to have vital tests have not been during the pandemic.
In addition to many cancer patients not getting the urgent specialist referrals they need, experts believe individuals with other conditions such as asthma and diabetes are also suffering due to lost GP appointments. People with lung cancer symptoms — which are very similar to the symptoms of coronavirus — could also be going undiagnosed.
Urgent referrals for lung cancer — the deadliest type of cancer in the UK — are down 50% year on year, according to Cancer Research UK.
Why the significant drop in GP appointments?
There are several reasons for the significant drop in GP appointments over the last year, most of which are Covid-19-related.
First, social distancing guidelines and strict cleaning rules mean GPs can only see a fraction of the normal volume of patients face-to-face in their practices. This has led to many GPs moving a huge number of their patient appointments online.
Then there is the fact that many people are simply too scared to attend face-to-face appointments for fear of catching coronavirus while travelling to their GP or while waiting in their practices. Many others have simply overlooked necessary appointments because they do not want to be an additional burden on the NHS at this difficult time.
[Related reading: NHS Waiting Lists At Highest Level Since Records Began]
What can employers do to support their employees?
First and foremost, employers that offer employee benefits need to ensure that what they are providing is indeed supporting their employees as much as possible. Group Risk products like Private Medical Insurance and Group Income Protection both often provide employees with access to digital GP services. These services can help businesses better manage their employees’ health, something that is particularly important in light of the ongoing pandemic and significant drop in available GP appointments.
Virtual GP services
It’s more important than ever to have support in place for your employees. Access to initial diagnosis is crucial both from a clinical point of view and also for peace of mind. Appointments can be scheduled to suit the individual without them having to leave their home. The virtual GP allows referrals onto specialists or for further tests just as you would expect from your usual GP.
Why not speak to one of our experts at Premier Choice Healthcare who can explain the options available to you.
Gill Adams is the Head of SME Growth at Premier Choice Group and has been in the private medical insurance industry since the early 90’s, working in both the insurer and intermediary markets. Gill has a strong background in sales leadership and corporate sales from both an insurer and broker perspective.