New services introduced by the NHS during the Covid pandemic have led more than a third of people living in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board area (36%) to reconsider how they will seek help for non-urgent healthcare issues in the future – but just 13% say they will contemplate using alternative ways to seek urgent medical help.
A new YouGov study into the way people in different areas of Wales have been accessing NHS services since the start of the crisis has been published by Welsh Government as part of its Help Us Help You campaign, designed to educate people on how to get the most appropriate healthcare for their needs.
Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board’s Director of Primary Care, Julie Denley, said the research had been conducted to understand levels of awareness across different regions of the NHS services that are available for patients, to make sure they can be seen and treated quicker and better.
Ms Denley said: “This survey confirms that, with all the lockdown restrictions and changes to NHS services over the last year, some people are confused about the best way to get help for any health issues they are concerned about.
“We know that many people have been worried about accessing the NHS for fear of contracting the virus, particularly during peak periods, while others have been put off by the thought that they would be adding to the pressures on our doctors and nurses. While the way people can access our services has changed, we want local residents to know that we are very much still here for them. They can still get whatever healthcare and support they need and can get it safely, often without needing to make a trip to the GP or the emergency department.”
Despite it now being 11 months since GP surgeries across the country had to change the way they conduct their consultations, only 44% of people in the local area were aware that GPs were offering virtual appointments and just 29% had utilised them.
While more than half (56%) of those surveyed were not aware of remote GP consultations being available, 79% did think they were an important service.
The NHS 111 online symptom checker – which helps people understand which NHS service to use for different non-emergency health concerns – has been welcomed by the local public. This service was also seen as important by more than three quarters of people surveyed (78%), but only 58% of people were aware of the online tool and just 27% had used it.
One of the key pressures on the NHS since before the Covid pandemic has been the number of unnecessary visits to hospital emergency departments (EDs), which should only treat patients with urgent, life-threatening conditions. Broken bones, sprains and minor burns, for example, can all be treated much more effectively in a Minor Injury Unit (MIU) than in the ED, yet over a third of people surveyed (37%) were not aware that MIUs existed.
Ms Denley said: “To help us help you, it is essential that you access the right service in the right way, depending on your symptoms. Pharmacies are a key service if you are feeling unwell or have minor health concerns or are experiencing a common ailment. If you need out of hours health information or advice, NHS 111 Wales is available 24 hours a day every day and has a website where you can check your symptoms online.
“Minor Injury Units are the best place to go for less serious injuries but if you need emergency care for a limb or life-threatening injury such as choking, chest pain, blacking out or serious blood loss, you should call 999.
“We have an ongoing communications campaign planned through the year to help people understand how to access the advice and treatment they need in the best way.”
The survey results revealed clear public support among the general public for the new NHS services that have been introduced. When asked how important it was that people access the NHS in different ways, such as through MIUs, remote GP consultations, NHS 111 online symptom checker or the common ailments scheme available at pharmacies, an average of 88% of people felt it was important.
Ms Denley added: “It is encouraging that the public can see the importance of these new services and that many are now reconsidering the way they seek treatment for both urgent and non-urgent care. However, to help relieve the pressures on the NHS and make sure that patients get the right treatment as quickly as possible, we really need everyone in Wales to change their habits and use the new services that have been introduced.”
For more information on how best to access NHS services, visit www.111.wales.nhs.uk.