Within the Weymouth and Portland area there are six active PPGs covering all the GP practices in the Primary Care Network (PCN). The chair of each group, along with representatives from the practices sit on the Weymouth and Portland PPGs chairs group, where information can be shared and discussions held about topics that relate to patients within the PCN.

A picture of the Weymouth and Portland survey

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus in March 2020 the chairs group decided to meet regularly online to enable the groups to be fully updated and have the opportunity of offering support to the practices. Concern was raised by group members that nationally enforced changes made to the way people access their GP surgery, manage their health and have appointments could affect the health of people in Weymouth and Portland, especially those who were digitally disadvantaged.

The PPGs and PCN agreed a questionnaire would be the most appropriate way of understanding how the changes in the way people access healthcare had affected people locally and get an idea of what access and experience people had to digital devices and online services, what barriers there were to people accessing digital technology and what opportunities there were for GP practices to support people to access GP services online.

The PPG coordinator at Dorset CCG (the former name of NHS Dorset) worked with Weymouth & Portland PCN, the PPG chairs, various departments with the NHS, local authorities, Healthwatch and the voluntary community sector to confirm no similar projects were being undertaken locally. There was universal support for the research and all of these stakeholders had the opportunity to contribute towards the content of the questionnaire.

The project was given funding, enabling a third-party organisation to support the questionnaire and create an independent report into the research. The PPGs and PCN felt it was crucial for both people with and without internet access to contribute towards the survey, so a digital and paper version of the questionnaire was created.

Support from stakeholders meant distribution of the questionnaire was straightforward. The PPG and PCN also worked together to identify people who were least likely to have access to the internet and sent the survey to them along with supporting the digital promotion and distribution of the questionnaire.

There was an overwhelming response from people in supporting the questionnaire, which helped add much substance to the subsequent report and has enabled the PCN and PPGs to work together to help improve access to GP services in Weymouth and Portland.