Just 11% of patients in East Lancashire have made GP appointments online despite data from the 2018 GP Patient Survey showing that people are finding it increasingly difficult to contact their family doctor over the phone.
The survey of 5,903 patients in the East Lancashire CCG shows that just 72% of people found it easy to get in touch with their GP's surgery on the phone – five years ago it was 76%, while the Royal College of GPs says that surgeries' resources are stretched, but that doctors and their teams are "performing well in incredibly difficult circumstances".
The figures from the survey, conducted between January and March this year, show that in the last three months, 53% of those surveyed had visited their GP practice but only 37% said that they knew that they could book appointments with their GP online – and just 11% had done so.
“A great deal of work is taking place across Lancashire and South Cumbria and whilst there are challenges nationally in increasing the numbers of patients online, we are certainly one of the most successful areas of the North West," said Declan Hadley, Digital Lead, Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria.
"We are in the process of rolling out an exciting new app called MyGP which will make it a lot easier for patients to book appointments and prescriptions as well as interact online with their practice," he added. "This is being trialled initially in some practices in Nelson and parts of Hyndburn with a view to being rolled out across the rest of East Lancashire shortly after.
"We are also going to be running some digital training for patients to help those who are unsure about using online. These will take place in practices and community venues such as supermarkets."
Addressing the national picture, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs and our teams are performing well, in the best interests of patients, in incredibly difficult circumstances.
“Our workload has escalated in recent years, both in volume and complexity, but the share of the NHS budget our service receives is less than it was a decade ago, and GP numbers are falling," Helen added. "But patients are still waiting too long for a GP appointment, and too many are not getting an appointment when they want one.
“As well as being frustrating for patients, and GPs, this is concerning as it means patients might not be getting the treatment they need in the early stages of their condition – and their conditions will potentially become more serious.
“The plain truth is that existing GPs and our teams are working to absolute capacity and we just don’t have enough GPs to offer enough appointments."
The approval rate for GPs' surgeries in the East Lancashire CCG is still broadly positive, with 85% of patients rating their overall experience of their practice as either very good or fairly good – though this has dropped from 87% in 2013. Nationally, 84% of people thought their GP services were good in this year's survey.
Acting director of primary care for NHS England Dr Nikita Kanani said: “General practice is the foundation of the NHS and this survey shows patients appreciate the fantastic job GPs and the wider primary care work force are doing in times of real pressure, helping more people living with increasingly complex conditions.
"We are already putting record funding into primary care after years of underinvestment, with an additional £2.4 billion every year by 2020 to help drive improvements in care, including widening access with more GPs are in training than ever before – a record 3,157 began their studies last year," Dr Kanani added. "As we develop a long-term plan for the NHS, we will look to further build on these successes and this critical foundation."
The survey of patients in England has been redesigned and now includes 16- to 17-year-olds for the first time.