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New Year Message from the Chair, Carol Stonham



As we get to the end of 2020 it is certainly a year that will go down in history and one none of us will ever forget. It has challenged us physically and mentally, left many feeling worn and broken but has also discovered innovation, adaption and perseverance in healthcare. As we move into 2021 it’s clear we are still in the midst of a hugely challenging pandemic that still threatens the way we live and work and the safety of our patients, but there has been a glimmer of hope in the start of a vaccination programme. This morning, as I write this, the announcement has come that the awaited AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in the UK so the programme of protection can surge forward. And with it the pressure on primary care to perform and deliver vaccination at scale. 

But what of usual care? What of the routine things that still need to be done in different ways? At the start of a new year, and maybe more so this year, we need to think about how we encourage people to be healthy, to undo the habits that lockdown have established. How will you be supporting people to make better lifestyle choices in 2021 – whether they want to get more active, lose some weight, stop smoking or reduce their alcohol intake? These people might previously have made an appointment to discuss this at a face-to-face appointment or more likely added it on as a “whilst I am here” at another appointment. Now that we are conducting many of our appointments virtually – either by video or telephone – it is just as important to offer these services, maybe more so, but how will we do that? 

We have learnt during the pandemic to consult in a different way, to adapt our consultation style, and patients too have adapted to this. The flexibility of not needing to physically ‘attend’ an appointment has proven to be an attractive option to most of our patients. Many have had access to technology to allow video consultation – and been able to use it! So how better to support your patient when stopping smoking, becoming more active, losing weight than through technology? Delivering Very Brief Advice via video consultation, helping them to set tailored goals, signposting to local resources such as Movement on Prescription for Health, using apps to support activity and weight loss. 

I know technology isn’t for everyone and we have to retain an option for those who don’t have access to or ability to use it. I fear some of these people might feel even more cut off from healthcare as we have become more technology focused. They aren’t always who you assume they will be. There has been a risk of health inequalities widening during the pandemic. 

As we go into 2021 the challenges of the pandemic are not lessening, and primary care faces the new challenge of protecting the population with mass vaccination. But whilst you are protecting people with vaccination don’t forget the long-term health benefits people will realise from better lifestyle choices and the importance of your part in helping them in their journey from setting their own goals, to supporting them along the way, to seeking out their own sources of help and support. 

Take care and stay safe. 

Carol Stonham, Chair, PCRS Executive