Calls to GPs may now be diverted in an attempt to reduce the pressure being placed on doctors' surgeries by the pandemic.

GP practices, which have been making more use of electronic means of communication since the pandemic started, are finding themselves taking 500 calls a day, say health chiefs.

That's up from around 150 calls a day pre-pandemic.

It's thought that the knock-on effects of the pandemic, such as the reduction of other services, has led to more people contacting their GP for medical concerns.

As a result of the increased traffic on their phone lines, they're having to divert calls to a central call handling service at the Ayrshire Urgent Care Service during "high periods of demand" for the public to receive advice and support to "allow GP practices to focus on caring for those patients most in need."

Craig McArthur, Director of East Ayrshire Health & Social Care Partnership explained the rationale behind the decision: "As positive Covid-19 cases within our communities are higher than at any other time in the pandemic, NHS Ayrshire & Arran has had to review how some planned and out-patient services are provided. This significant pressure is also being experienced across Primary Care services, particularly with GP Practices trying to manage the ever increasing demand.

"GP Practices are open and have continued to be accessible for patients throughout the pandemic. They are experiencing a significant increase in people contacting the practice on a daily basis with a large proportion of patients requiring face to face appointments. In some instances this has gone from 150 calls a day before the pandemic to now sometimes in excess of 500 a day. 

"The knock on effect of the pandemic, and reduction in other services, also means people are turning to their local GP practices in greater numbers to manage their condition.  Practice staff are prioritising those in most clinical need for urgent on the day presentations.

"Practices are also experiencing staff shortages due to infection or being identified as a close contact. Practice staff are doing their very best to answer all these calls but on occasions this isn’t possible. This is understandably very frustrating for patients as well as our GP practice staff and in these instances we ask that people are patient and respectful."

He continued: "Practices are making greater use of electronic ways of contacting the practice as well as video and telephone appointments. This flexible mix of telephone, video and in-person consulting is essential to deal with the numerous requests being received with the workforce available.

"If during the video or telephone consultation the clinician feels an in-person examination is needed then this will be offered. Many patients have welcomed this flexibility finding it more convenient and easier to get an appointment as they don’t have to travel to the practice and can fit the appointment around their busy lives.

"Given the significant demand, the Ayrshire Urgent Care Service is working in partnership with GP practices to help patients get the right care in the right place at the right time. 

"During high periods of demand, patients phoning their GP practice may now have their call re-directed to a central call handling service at the Ayrshire Urgent Care Service for advice and support. This will allow GP practices to focus on caring for those patients most in need.  Patients should be assured that if they require the assistance of their own GP Practice this will be arranged.

"It is hoped these further measures will provide easier access for patients when calling their GP practice."