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Plaistow surgery goes online in bid to cover maternity leavers

PUBLISHED: 12:00 12 November 2019 | UPDATED: 12:14 12 November 2019

L-R: Stancy Fernandes, Holly Ward, Reema Akthar, Tim Fuller, Dr Farzana Hussain, Sandra Henien and Dr Iram Ali. Picture: Jon King

L-R: Stancy Fernandes, Holly Ward, Reema Akthar, Tim Fuller, Dr Farzana Hussain, Sandra Henien and Dr Iram Ali. Picture: Jon King

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A GP surgery is offering patients an "innovative" online consultation service to avoid closing as most of its clinical staff go on maternity leave.

The Project Surgery in Lettsom Walk, Plaistow, opened in 2003. Picture: Jon KingThe Project Surgery in Lettsom Walk, Plaistow, opened in 2003. Picture: Jon King

The Project Surgery in Lettsom Walk, Plaistow, has teamed up with healthcare tech firm Docly in a bid to carry on serving all of its 5,000 patients.

The surgery's Dr Farzana Hussain said: "It's very new and innovative. If I didn't do this, the surgery would have to shut because we would not be able to provide the service. Without it, we couldn't look after our 5,000 patients."

Newham Clinical Commissioning Group has given the surgery's one year contract the green light. In total, 130 existing patients signed up within 24 hours of the service's November 1 launch.

Patients log into the Docly program, select the surgery, answer questions on their condition and are then contacted by a doctor to arrange an appropriate consultation.

L-R: Stancy Fernandes, Holly Ward, Reema Akthar, Tim Fuller, Dr Farzana Hussain, Sandra Henien and Dr Iram Ali. Picture: Jon KingL-R: Stancy Fernandes, Holly Ward, Reema Akthar, Tim Fuller, Dr Farzana Hussain, Sandra Henien and Dr Iram Ali. Picture: Jon King

Dr Hussain explained the deal is 30 per cent cheaper than paying a locum agency to cover absent colleagues.

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The scheme also fits in with the NHS's ambition for more surgeries across the country to offer digital consultations.

Under its current NHS contract, the surgery has to provide 82.5 hours of clinician contact time per week. But raised demand in Newham, which has high HIV rates, tuberculosis and poverty, means the surgery risks disappointing patients unable to get appointments.

The hope is more will be seen online, initially getting 10 minutes of consultation. Dr Hussain is hoping to cut that to five with standard questions which take time in face to face meetings being answered online before patients connect with medics.

However, the time is driven by patients' needs. And if it's decided they need to visit the surgery, where most patients are under 40, they will be invited in. The service is not on offer to under-18s or pregnant women.

Dr Hussain predicted the scheme could help ease pressure on A&E departments with patients able to contact the surgery 24/7 instead of presenting at hospital doors.

"My patients are very important to me. I don't want to scare them, because change can he hard. For someone who is elderly, this might not be the right thing for them, but for a young person, it could be," Dr Hussain said.

She added the service could also help address a recruitment crisis in Newham by attracting younger GPs with its flexibility allowing staff to work from home.

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