Challenges of safeguarding via remote consulting during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative interview study

Sharon Dixon*, Lucy Frost, Gene S Feder, Sue Zeibland, Catherine Pope

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Abstract

Background
The COVID-19 pandemic required general practice to rapidly adapt to remote consultations and assessment of patients, creating new, and exacerbating existing, vulnerabilities for many patients.

Aim
To explore GP perspectives and concerns about safeguarding practice during the pandemic, focusing on challenges and opportunities created by remote consultation.

Design and setting
Qualitative interview study.

Method
Eighteen GPs from Oxford, London, Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester, and Reading were interviewed between June and November 2020, using a flexible topic guide and fictional vignettes to explore child and adult safeguarding scenarios. Interviews were audio-recorded, thematically coded, and analysed.

Results
GPs worried about missing observational information during remote consultations and that conversations might not be private or safe. Loss of continuity and pooled triage lists were seen as further weakening safeguarding opportunities. GPs experienced remote consulting as more ‘transactional’, with reduced opportunities to explore ‘other reasons’ including new safeguarding needs. However, they also recognised that remote consulting created opportunities for some vulnerable patients. While supporting known vulnerable patients was difficult, identifying new or unknown vulnerabilities was harder still. Most reported that remote consulting during COVID-19 was harder, riskier, and emotionally draining, contributing to increased GP anxiety and reduced job satisfaction.

Conclusion
The GPs interviewed raised important concerns about how to identify and manage safeguarding in the context of remote consultations. Current guidance recommends face-to-face consultation for safeguarding concerns, but pressure to use remote forms of access (within or beyond the pandemic) and the fact that safeguarding needs may be unknown makes this an issue that warrants urgent attention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e199-e208
Number of pages10
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice Open
Volume72
Issue number716
Early online date24 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Study expenses were supported through Sue Ziebland and Catherine Pope’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Senior Investigator awards.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Authors.

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • general practice
  • remote consultation
  • safeguarding

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