In this series of articles, we give highlights from our report Pandemic Patient Experience II, which explores people's experiences during the latter part of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results from our survey show that patients have struggled to access non-COVID care since the start of the pandemic.

Problems with access were less acute in the 2021 survey than those reported in our survey from the spring and summer of 2020, but overall 66% of respondents indicated they had struggled to access one or more services over the period of the pandemic.

Access to primary care has been particularly difficult; the proportion of respondents saying they had struggled to access GP services went up by half again in the period since the first survey; 36% of respondents in the 2021, survey up from 24%. If GPs are the front door to the NHS, then patients are increasingly perceiving that the door is closed to them. We support Healthwatch England’s call for a review of GP access as part of the NHS’s recovery from the pandemic.

The survey showed that patients found new types of healthcare appointments did not work for them, or they didn’t know how to go about setting them up. Despite much excitable talk of services moving online at a large scale in 2020, our evidence showed most remote access of services was done via telephone, with only a small minority using online methods. In most cases, patients rated online methods worse than traditional contact.

We identified that telephone consultations are not an adequate substitute for face-to-face contact. Roughly half of respondents felt their care or experience was not has good as it would have been otherwise, while only 16% felt it was better. As part of the recovery face-to-face contact must be restored as the default form of GP appointment, and remote consultations offered as an option for those who prefer them.

Overall, patients did not report highly positive experiences of care during the pandemic period, answering ‘disagree’ or ‘only slightly agree’ to the following statements in these proportions:

  • I have been able to access the services I need (55.9%)
  • I have not had to wait too long for health and care services (55.4%)
  • I have had the right support to make me feel safe and address any fears (51.5%)
  • I have been supported emotionally (50.4%)
  • I feel listened to (49%)
  • My care has been well coordinated (47.4%).