What has changed at Frome Medical Practice over the last few months? 

We all know that the arrival of the coronavirus nearly six months ago changed everything, including for those those working in primary care at our local health centres and GP surgeries. Together with the rest of our colleagues throughout the nation, the GPs, clinicians, nurses and support workers here at Frome Medical Practice had to adapt quickly and effectively to the new way of working.

Dr Helen Kingston is our senior partner at Frome Medical Practice. Dr Kingston gives an insight into what has changed and what our patients can expect when they contact the surgery now. She also explains her own positive hopes and aspirations for the future.

‘This has been an incredibly challenging last six months,’ explains Dr Kingston. ‘However, right from the outset we were committed to providing care to our patients as safely as possible and ensuring that our Medical Centre remains as infection risk free both for patients needing face to face appointments, as well as our staff.’

Those entering the Frome Medical Practice building at the Health Park in Enos Way now mostly do so by invitation, following a telephone consultation. When they arrive at the building, patients are asked to attend wearing a mask or face covering. All individuals coming into the practice are then asked a few questions to check that they do not have a new cough, fever or have suffered any loss of taste or smell.

‘Patients will also notice that our staff will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect both the patient and the member of staff,’ adds Dr Kingston. ‘We have also enhanced our cleaning of the building and still operate a highly cleaned zone for those patients needing assessment for possible COVID symptoms to keep them and all our patients safe. If you are ever asked to attend this area then please be assured that rooms are cleaned thoroughly between each patient assessment.’

In order to minimise footfall in the building as much as possible, the practice is using the telephone consultation as the first point of contact for their patients for many appointments. In addition, video consultations are also offered.

‘Many of our patient’s queries can be dealt with by way of a telephone or video consultation follow-up,’ says Dr Kingston. ‘However, I want to reassure all our patients that if a face to face examination or intervention is required then the practice is very much open and able to offer a full range of services.’  

Over the past few months the practice has invested in improving the telephone system, although there remain certain times, such as Monday mornings, when the service can get extremely busy. The practice also made over 1500 telephone calls over the summer months to local people who were shielding from coronavirus. 

‘All the phone calls of the last few months aside, I want to reassure patients that if they do have difficulties communicating by telephone, then we shall prioritise and understand the need for face to face contact,’ adds Dr Kingston.

Examples of where GPs and clinicians still see patients face to face include immunisations, cancer screening, active management of long term health conditions needing examination, 6 week mother and baby checks, contraceptive device fitting and appointments for injections, dressings and leg ulcer care.

‘As you can see, although there have been many necessary changes over the last months, the Practice has remained very much open and available to any patient who needs to see a GP or clinician face to face,’ says Dr Kingston. ‘Despite the coronavirus, we have never ceased seeing patients who are acutely unwell and need assessing in person. This includes patients reporting symptoms that may indicate a serious problem, such as possible cancer, sepsis, heart disease, stroke or breathing difficulties. We have also made sure that those who might otherwise struggle to communicate and manage their health by phone are still able to seek medical advice face to face.’

Dr Kingston describes the experience of the last six months as being ‘a huge learning curve’ for everyone and what has really impressed her colleagues and herself is the help that they have been given by their own patients, all working together as a community.

‘We have certainly found that in and around Frome our patients have been taking the key government health guidelines seriously, from regular hand washing and physical distancing to the need for self-isolation if there is contact with suspected COVID infection,’ says Dr Kingston. ‘For the last two months our patients have been more than happy to comply with the requirement that they wear a face covering when coming to visit us. Patients can further help by wearing a mask indoors when not at home or in situations outside where physical distancing is not possible.’

Throughout the six months of the coronavirus, the practice website and social media have played an increasingly important role in providing up to date and current information for patients to help themselves. Online questionnaires are available for those conditions that can be monitored remotely, e.g. asthma, high blood pressure and contraception checks. The practice is also now starting to use video group consultations for specific groups of patients.

‘The website and all the information contained on it have become essential,’ says Dr Kingston. ‘It now has all key elements to help signpost patients, from information on self care to mental health support services.’

What has also been a big success throughout the summer months has been the take-up of the NHS App, with Frome Medical Practice leading the way on this nationally.

‘The NHS App (where patients can access their own medical records and order repeat prescriptions) is just one example of where we are trying to encourage self-help for our patients,’ explains Dr Kingston. ‘We are also now starting to promote patients taking their own blood pressure readings at home.’

The practice has also recently reinstated online bookings for some appointments, including cervical smears, flu vaccinations for eligible patients and some GP triage calls (the GP triage calls will generally need to be booked before 8am each day.) Patients of the practice will not have missed the fact that the flu vaccination campaign for the winter has also now started. 

‘As our patients will have noticed, there are some things that are a little different for those attending for a flu vaccination this year,’ says Dr Kingston. ‘However, I have no doubt that as shown during the last six months all of our patients will work with us as one united community as we all get through this together. Thank you to everyone!’

Published: Sep 10, 2020