An online consultation platform widely used by GPs and promoted as being available “24 hours a day” is disabled by some practices for most of the day due to high demand.
The eConsult platform is used in over 3,000 GP practices in England, Scotland and Wales to help connect patients to the care they need. The online facility, offered to around 28 million patients, is described in promotional material as “available anytime, day or night, from any internet-connected device”.
GPs had said the platform increased their workload, describing it as an “unlimited request portal” that potentially hindered access for other patients. Practices across the country are now limiting access to the platform due to high demand.
In September, around 29.2 million GP appointments were made across England, according to NHS figures. Last month the Observer reported that GPs have to see up to 90 patients a day and are struggling to cope.
eConsult encourages patients to find self-help information from the NHS, but it is also commonly used to submit medical information for a doctor to review.
In Merseyside, the Sefton branch of Healthwatch, the consumer champion for health and social services, raised concerns about the deactivation of the eConsult portal in a report to Sefton Council in October.
He said he had logged into the eConsult platform at several local practices only to find it was “constantly” disabled.
Healthwatch Sefton said in its report: “When contacting patients by phone, patients are often advised to use the online service. Patients who choose to do so, drop their position in the phone queue, go online, only to find that this service is unavailable.
The Observer found other practices telling patients that the eConsult platform is only available for limited times during the day. A practice in Bradford said last week: ‘Please note that online consultations are only available between 8am and 10am. Many other practices limit the availability of the platform to practice opening hours, when GPs are available for triage of cases.
eConsult Health, the UK company that developed the platform, has championed the use of online consultations, which it says can improve patient access, provide better targeted care and enable practices to effectively support patients. He recommends that it be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, President of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Many practices find online triage systems to be an effective way of managing demand and ensuring patients receive the most appropriate care for their needs. timely health.
“Other practices have reported that these systems don’t work as well for them, actually increasing demand, making it harder for patients to access care through other means.
“Some have said they are so inundated with requests that they struggle to keep up with the daily emergency appointment requests coming in via reception – so they have chosen not to use these systems or only make them available during certain hours to manage this.”
A spokesperson for eConsult said: “eConsult has been developed by practicing NHS GPs to help address the current challenges faced by practices across the country. We encourage our practices to offer 24/7 service to patients.
“A small number of practices choose to disable access to eConsult at certain times. This is at the discretion of the practice, and while we encourage the effective use of online consultations, we also understand and appreciate firsthand the pressure general practice is currently under.