Dr Sangeetha Steevart is a GP at Helsby Street Medical Centre and Clinical Lead for Primary Care at NHS Warrington Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)

NHS Warrington Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is currently working closely with doctors, nurses and admin staff in Warrington’s GP practices to ensure what we do in General Practice is what is needed by and for our patients.

Staff in our practices, the hospital and CCG are all committed to helping Warrington patients receive the healthcare that they need during these uncertain times. However, we understand that some patients have concerns about the changes we have put in place in our GP practices over the past six months in response to the pandemic. As a result, I wanted to take this opportunity to address some of these concerns and explain why these changes are essential.

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While all GP practices have the same goal to support the health needs of patients, each one has different staff, buildings and slightly different ways of working. When it became clear that we were in a coronavirus pandemic, every GP practice received written instructions from experts at NHS England on how they should operate.

They are intended to keep both patients and staff safe and reduce the risk of infection in practice buildings. People who come into GP practices are generally ill and so it would be awful if on top of their asthma, or their diabetes or their poorly tummy, that they caught coronavirus. So, the instructions clearly set out what every practice needed to do to keep everyone safe. All GP practices in Warrington continue to follow these instructions.

Although practice doors are locked – practices are definitely not closed. Practices open every weekday, except bank holidays from 8am to 6.30pm. At the moment, patients are asked to only come to the practice if they have an appointment. This is because everyone who enters a practice, similar to if you have a hospital appointment, needs to be asked a number of questions beforehand and sometimes have their temperature checked. We cannot have anywhere near as many patients as we would usually in our buildings because of social distancing and so it is a bit of a balancing act but we are all working hard to do our best.

Staff are all working doing what they did before coronavirus just doing it differently. For example, alongside other GPs, I now either speak to every patient on the telephone or chat via text or eConsult before I decide whether I can treat them remotely or I need to see them face to face.

Please remember, if you need to speak to a GP urgently, please call your practice and someone will call you back. If your need isn’t urgent, in other words it can wait a day or two, then please use eConsult (this is the online form on your surgery website). If you cannot use eConsult then just let the staff know when you call and they will make sure that your GP or practice nurse receives your query.

So, my message to you all is keep safe, wash your hands often, wear your face covering and keep your distance. We understand that changes may feel concerning for patients but we want to reassure you that your local GP, practice nurse, practice staff and clinical pharmacist are all still here to support you.