Access to GP Services

Our report looks into the experience of people in County Durham when accessing advice, information and appointments at their GP practice since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dcotor stood in GP surgery

In 2020 Healthwatch County Durham asked the public what health and social care topics they wanted us to look at in more detail in 2020/21. Investigating people’s experiences of accessing GP services was selected by the public as one of their top four priorities. We had already undertaken work looking at patient experience therefore it was determined to carry out a further specific piece of work to review GP practice websites and out of hours telephony. As we have a team of experienced Healthwatch County Durham volunteers we utilised their skills to conduct this further research.

We aimed to Engage with patients, to hear their experiences when accessing, advice, information and appointments at their GP Practice during the COVID-19 pandemic, research the quality of the information provided on automated telephone messages during the COVID-19 pandemic, and research the quality of GP practice websites during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Over 50% of the websites we looked at accessed displayed out of date information. All practices should review their websites to ensure that up to date information is provided and easily understood, given that face to face access to services is limited.
  • Each Primary Care Network should consider appointing a member of staff who can maintain and update each website. This would ensure information is kept current and consistent making it easier and more effective for the patient to navigate.
  •  Automated telephone messages should provide clear and succinct COVID-19 advice for their patients as not all patients will want or be able to go online to access information.
  • We found that there was a huge variation in the amount of information provided on websites and in their look and feel. Practices should ensure that their websites provide information that is accessible to all.
  • None of the websites provided information on Healthwatch County Durham. Since far fewer patients are going into the surgery this information should be provided remotely with Healthwatch County Durham being visible on practice websites.
  • Automated telephone messages should provide clear, consistent and succinct information on how to book an appointment as 55.84% practices did not provide this. 
  • Service providers should reassess their infrastructure as their current telephone systems may not be effective given the increase in remote triage and telephone consultations.

We will inform commissioners and service providers of what we have found to enable them to reflect on the way in which digital services are provided and to make improvements where required.

The GP answer machine message was too fast to catch the email address I needed


If you need this information in a different format please contact us:

0800 304 7039

Download Report

Share your thoughts

You can help make health and care services better by sharing your experiences and ideas.

Talk to us