Coronavirus: Barry GPs team up in 'unprecedented' challenge

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Barry Medical Centre
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West Quay Medical Centre in Barry is one of seven GP practices in a cluster

How are GP practices working with perhaps the biggest challenge the NHS has faced since its inception?

We have been speaking to staff at the Cardiff and Vale health board to see how GP practices in the Barry area have formed close working relationships in the wake of coronavirus and all its challenges.

Using more video consultations and "cluster" working is helping GPs look out for each other as they face pressures and also keep patients as safe as possible.

We have been to a practice in Barry, which has eight GPs on the staff, as well as nurses and healthcare assistants.

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Gareth Thomas said everyone has "mucked in and got things done"

Gareth Thomas, business manager at West Quay Medical Centre, Barry

What's it been like?

"It's been a bit unprecedented for us really. We've basically had to turn everything on its head.

"We are now in a process of handling everything via the telephone and if patients need to come down to the surgery they will be triaged by a clinician in the first instance and then brought down. We've now introduced social distancing in the practice."

What happens when you get a coronavirus patient?

"If they contact the practice and are triaged by a clinician, who deems that they have Covid19, they will be asked to attend the surgery, they will be provided with a telephone number.

"When they arrive in the car park, they phone the number they are provided with and a clinician will then go out to greet the patient with PPE [personal protective equipment] on. Then they are brought through into a separate room.

What is happening in your area?

"There are seven practices in Barry. We've worked collaboratively together to put a Covid centre together in Porthkerry. So any patients triaged over the telephone are transferred there.

What's it been like?

"Things have really changed. Credit to the staff, everybody has mucked in and got things done.

"It's been a bit of a change for patients. The way we've had to adapt and deal with issues is totally different now.

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James Martin says joint working between surgeries has been set up "very, very rapidly"

James Martin, GP partner at West Quay Medical Centre is also the lead for the central Vale cluster.

How are you dealing with patients?

"Almost everything we're doing at the moment is over the telephone and there are a certain number of patients for whom a video consultation would be beneficial. And we've given them the option to have a video consultation as well.

"We've done consultations over the telephone for quite a long time. What's changed is the fact we're having to do almost everything over the telephone - and we're making sure that they're safe to come down to the practice or not.

How is video helping?

"It gives you those additional cues that you miss from a telephone consultation. That's really useful particularly for things like children, or even for other patients as well, but you can pick up on some of these subtle visual cues that just get missed over the telephone."

Image caption,
GP practices are taking special precautions before seeing any patients

Explain how your GP cluster works?

"Clusters were set up about seven years ago, and they're groups of GP practices. So we have nine clusters in the Cardiff and Vale area.

"Our cluster is a group of seven practices - six from Barry and one from Sully. We work together, we do various projects to try to improve primary care services that are delivered for patients.

"This has included bringing pharmacists or physiotherapists into practices. But since Covid has hit, it's become really vital and is a way of us as a group of practices working together to try and keep delivering primary care services."

How has this helped then?

"If any practices are vulnerable - facing challenges from the Covid workload but also because staff members might be either self-isolating or too unwell to work - then other practices can step in and see those patients and help them to keep the doors open.

"It's a really new way of working. It's a huge change for us, it has required lots of logistical challenges but we've overcome those.

"From now on, I can run my surgery from one of the other practices in Barry which is a fantastic achievement, I think, and we've done that very, very rapidly. This would have taken months and months, and maybe even years, to set up before. We've managed to do it in a week or so, which is phenomenal really.

What else has the cluster been able to achieve?

"We've set up a Covid hub, so one particular practice is seeing all of the patients who we think might potentially have the virus.

"The reason for doing that is that we want to try to keep those patients away from other patients - patients who may be really particularly vulnerable from catching Covid.

"And by concentrating those patients in one area, we can ensure that we keep the other patients safe.