In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, back in April, local health services joined forces to help GP surgeries support and care for their most vulnerable residents through a newly established telephone support service.

The Vulnerable People’s Telephone Support Service, which ran from 15 April until 2 July when the government announced a relaxation of shielding restrictions, was operated by staff from NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire County Council.

In total, the team contacted nearly 10,000 individuals who had been identified by their GP surgery as being at highest risk of ill health and linked them up with suitable support services, depending on their needs.

Any medical or health concerns were reported back to the patient’s GP surgery. Many of these individuals were shielding or socially distancing in line with national guidelines and were very grateful for this support.

Karl Gluck, Head of Integrated Commissioning for Adult Mental Health, Advocacy and Autism, worked as a Locality Coordinator within the Call Centre. He said:

“I found phoning people and supporting call handlers to be a huge privilege and very satisfying.

Individuals were in the most part very appreciative of the call and of knowing that someone cares. Many people already had their own support in place, but for some, I believe that the calls were a lifeline, especially to those with complex health conditions who were struggling whilst shielding or social distancing.”

One patient reported how low she had been feeling when she received the call from the team as she hadn’t been able to see her family during the lockdown and was really struggling.  She said that the lady who had called her took the time to listen to her, answer her questions and arrange for her to have a follow-up call from her GP.  She has since been in regular contact with her GP by telephone, and has found this really helpful:

“After the call I felt a lot happier in myself.”

Another patient said:

“It’s a very helpful set up. I’m not too isolated as I have family and friends, but it was lovely to have this service – it was very comforting when I couldn’t be as independent as usual.”

The service worked with a number of GP surgeries across the county as well as four Welsh practices with patients in England, and the busy team contacted around 500 people every day.

Dr Hein Le Roux, GP in Churchdown and Deputy Clinical Chair at NHS Gloucestershire CCG, said:

“As the Covid-19 situation unfolded, GP surgeries across the county had to adapt very quickly to new ways of working to ensure that we could continue to offer essential medical support to individuals and keep people as safe as possible.

We have been particularly concerned about our most vulnerable patients, who tend to be older people, or those with underlying health conditions.

It was hugely reassuring to know that, at a time when many of these people were unable to see families and loved ones due to shielding or isolating at home, they received a friendly phone call to check they were ok and make sure they knew what support was available to them.

Although GP surgeries are now operating differently with fewer face-to-face appointments and more telephone and online video consultations, we are still open and here for our patients who need medical help.”

The Helpline team had processes in place to ensure that the individual’s GP surgery was made aware of any medical concerns and that urgent issues were responded to promptly and appropriately. Patients are receiving ongoing medical support from their GP surgeries.

GP surgeries have been open throughout the pandemic and continue to encourage patients to call them if they have a medical need. GP surgeries are now operating differently with fewer face-to-face appointments and more telephone and online video consultations.

The service worked in conjunction with Gloucestershire County Council and the district councils, who are running the Gloucestershire Help Hub.