"The older generation want more face to face visits" - Plea to protect Yorkshire's elderly as GPs adapt to digital revolution post-pandemic

Yorkshire elderly population must be included in future plans for remote-access healthcare to ensure that they are not alienated from a technological revolution, the leader of a health watchdog has warned.

Yorkshire elderly population must be included in future plans for remote-access healthcare, a health watchdog leader has warned
Photo: Adobe
Yorkshire elderly population must be included in future plans for remote-access healthcare, a health watchdog leader has warned Photo: Adobe

NHS guidance to GPs now states that patients who want to be seen face to face should be given the opportunity to do so.

But an outcry about the guidance from the British Medical Association (BMA) led to representatives from the body passing a vote of no confidence in the leaders of NHS England last month.

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GPs on the body said they had not been given enough guidance on how to stop the spread of Covid-19 if practices went back to full capacity in terms of face-to-face appointments.

Ashley Green, chief executive of Healthwatch North Yorkshire said: “GPs have been coping as best as they can. Some patients have come to us and said they’ve benefitted and seen the value in being able to speak to doctors over the phone.

“But it’s about patient choice. It’s difficult to explain how you’re feeling about a mark on your arm if a doctor can’t see it or touch it.

“Particularly the older generations in the Ryedale, Hambleton and Scarborough areas, the wi-fi access isn’t as good.

“The older generation want to see more face-to-face visits. It’s been a mixed bag and it needs to be around patient choice.

“Many people have had the same GP for generations. They know their history. Seeing someone face to face is reassuring.”

For Yorkshire’s most rural residents, a trip to the GP has long represented logistical challenges.

The Central Dales practice, which has centres in Hawes and Aysgarth, provides medical care for residents in an area of some 500 square miles. The nearest urgent medical centre for most residents is in Northallerton.

Some 20,000 people live in the Yorkshire Dales, many in villages or hamlets with less than 10 houses.

In both of North Yorkshire’s National Parks, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors, some 55 per cent of residents are over 50, and residents aged between 65 and 69 make up the largest age group.

Jane Ritchie, honorary secretary of the Upper Dales Health Watch, the patient watchdog for the practice, said: “There’s a proportion of the population who won’t get online or haven’t got the facilities. There’s a long tradition of wanting to speak to the doctor.

“They’re not used to having to wait, and that’s a difficulty.

“We had an open access surgery in the morning so people knew that they could turn up at 9am and they might have to sit there until 11am or 12pm.

“Now that’s obviously stopped, and I’m fairly sure they’re not going to go back to that.”

Miss Ritchie advocated for better digital inclusion for older people.

She said: “It’s extremely simple. It’s not difficult. I would have thought more people would have had to order things online in Covid. The vast majority of people can get onto email.

“It’s a question of encouraging people to get online.”

She added that for some of the Dales’ younger residents, remote services might encourage them to speak more openly about their mental health.

“Some of the farmers are very stoical and they do not go and seek help when they need it,” she said.

“It’s very important that you do seek help, and certainly for younger people they don’t have a problem going on a website.”