Strain on GP practices intensifies in most deprived regions of the UK
Primary care – the day-to-day healthcare available in local areas and the first place people go when they need health advice or treatment, such as GPs – is where investigations and interventions to address health issues is often coordinated.
The report findings show that the rate of GP consultations per patient living in the most deprived areas is 18% higher than those living in the least deprived, while an individual aged 50 in the most deprived group consults their GP, on average, at the same rate as someone aged 70 in the least deprived.
Patients living in deprived areas are more likely to have GP appointments and these appointments are likely to be more complicated. This is due to an increase in the number of patients in these communities with longer-term health conditions, placing a greater strain on primary care networks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further intensified the challenges faced by GPs in the most deprived regions. Prior to the pandemic, patients living in these areas had less access to vital digital health services needed, such as telemedicine, which may further exacerbate healthcare inequalities.
Digital technology will be vital to level the playing field
The report further highlights how the NHS has recognised the need to make rapid changes to service delivery and care pathways as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these changes have required the enhanced use of digital technologies, hastening the digital transformation of healthcare – one of the key pillars of the NHS Long Term Plan.
In many instances, the pandemic has demonstrated that a large part of care - from electronic health records, telemedicine, diagnostics, remote monitoring and care devices, to pathology, AI and predictive analytics – can and should be provided digitally.
However, the pandemic has also exposed an urgent requirement to optimise data infrastructure in the UK and highlighted room for improvement in data sharing processes between healthcare providers and settings.
Although almost all GP clinics in the UK are using electronic health records, Imperial College's researchers have found that some hospital trusts are still using paper records, which is a barrier to the efficient sharing of health data. This use of paper records in hospital trusts represents an additional burden for patients that move between these hospitals and their GP.