GP SURGERIES in Reading, West Berkshire and Wokingham could switch to telephone-only appointments within a fortnight, a leading doctor has said.

Doctors practices will not run face-to-face triage appointments, instead interviewing patients only over the phone.

This is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, protecting both patients and staff.

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Dr Andy Ciecierski, GP locality lead for north and west Reading, said: “I suspect that within the next week to two weeks, all GP practices will have some form of telephone-only provision, if not within the week.”

He made the comments at a meeting of the health and wellbeing board at Reading Borough Council, on March 13.

Dr Ciecierski said: “The risk is that we start losing staff because of illness. They will then have to be off for a week, at least.

“Most things can be dealt with over the phone. If you get yourself into the right mindset, almost working with the computer, there is a lot of information in there. You can actually deal with a lot of patients problems remotely.

“It’s a different way of thinking for a lot of clinicians, who are used to seeing patients and talking to them and trying to work out what’s going on.

“Remotely, it’s more tricky, but you have to get into the right mindset to do it. I think this is going to be a big cultural change in how you provide medicine, so we watch this space.”

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A spokeswoman for Berkshire West CCG said all patients will have to first phone the GP surgery, and if possible then dealt with and advised completely over the phone.

She said if patients need to be seen, they can still be seen. She added: “Practices will still be open and functioning.”

Dr Ciecierski added the surgery where he works, Emmer Green Surgery, will switch to telephone-only appointments as of today, March 16.

He said: “This week we are ringing all patients with appointments and checking whether they have had any contact before coming to their appointment, and asking them to switch to a telephone appointment if there was any doubt about it. 

“That’s for their own safety and also to reduce the risk of cross contamination with other patients in the practice.

“I know two practices locally that already have plans in place as of Monday. We have had a discussion today looking at how the logistics will work.

“It’s two-fold: one is to try to avoid patients getting something, but it’s also protecting our staff, where we have a limited number of doctors and nurses, we are looking at how we are going to work in shifts, so that we can operate a triage team, and a team that can actually see patients.”