DOCTORS in Frampton Cotterell have introduced online consultations in an attempt to cope with rising demands for appointments.
Frome Valley Medical Centre says it is working at maximum capacity, and contacted patients by text to tell them the new system was up and running.
But so many people have used it that on some days the system has had to be temporarily suspended part way through the day, to allow staff to cope with requests.
The practice in Court Road says the system is designed to take pressure off their phone service, and direct patients to the most suitable health care. That may mean a phone consultation, face-to-face appointment with a doctor, or a visit to a pharmacy.
Anyone who cannot use the online service is being advised to phone for an appointment as usual.
GP partner Dr Helen Pidduck said the system was introduced in order to help the surgery cope with “the enormous pressures in primary care across the nation”.
She said: “The aim is not to restrict the number of face-to-face appointments for patients.
“The changes relate to the initial access to be online, for those that are able to do so, rather than subsequent care.”
Patients who are confident using web-based services are being asked to fill in an online form for both routine and urgent care, via the practice website at www.fromevalley.nhs.uk.
Trained staff then ‘triage’ inquiries and get back to patients within two days by phone or text.
A statement on the practice website said: “This will relieve the pressure on our telephone lines meaning that those patients that are unable to use our online system will be able to get through by telephone in a more timely manner.
“If the most appropriate step is that you see one of our clinicians in the surgery, this may be a phone consultation or it may be a face-to-face appointment depending on the problem.
“The majority of patient contact will still be via telephone, as this enables us to deal with more patients each day.
“Please be aware that the practice is working at maximum capacity because of our patient demand and therefore we are dealing with all requests based on clinical need.
“We understand this may be frustrating for you but please do not take your frustrations out on our staff.”
Dr Pidduck added: “We have always tried to be a warm and welcoming surgery; having to carefully manage patient demand when under high pressure is challenging as prioritisation is necessary.”
On days where the online system has reached capacity, patients have been asked to wait until the next day, look for “self-help” measures on the NHS website or visit a pharmacist, only to call “if you have an urgent clinical need” and not to go to the surgery to ask for an appointment.