Doctors in west Wales are reassuring patients that GP services are still available as they try to deal with increasing demand.

It follows concerns from patients who say they were unable to visit their GP, with telephone and online consultations being ramped up.

A survey by the Office for National Statistics showed that 19% of respondents said their appointments were held over the phone in May 2020.

This rose to 49% between January and March this year, with patients reporting they were finding it difficult to get an appointment in person.

During the pandemic, GP practices have increasingly had to look at new ways of communicating with the communities they serve.

Hywel Dda University health board say many practices will continue to use telephone and video consultations "where appropriate".

They say remote consultations can provide a convenient way for patients to speak to a healthcare professional - though not always a GP.

Most practices now have online systems such as E-Consult or Ask My GP, to allow patients to ask a non-urgent question about their health.

My Health Online is a 24/7 option for ordering repeat medication – designed for patient convenience, especially if self-isolating or shielding.

Telephone triage systems are also in place in the majority of surgeries to ensure that a patient speaks to a clinical member of staff about their health.

If a patient needs to be seen in person, however, the practice should make an appointment with the appropriate healthcare professional for their need.

Dr Sion James of Tregaron Surgery said: “We wish to reassure patients that GP services are still available to you.

"When you contact your practice, you will speak to the most appropriate person for your condition and if you need be seen in person, you will be given an appointment at the practice.

“Many conditions can be treated over the phone with advice and if required, a prescription can be issued to your nominated pharmacy.

"Please do not put off seeking treatment, and please remember that community pharmacies offer a wide range of services including treatment for minor ailments.”

In addition to the professional expertise offered at pharmacies, eligible patients will be able to receive their free flu vaccine at the majority of our community pharmacies this winter.

The health board has said that local community pharmacies can save you a trip to a GP or hospital accident and emergency department.

Community Pharmacist Richard Evans added: “Community pharmacists have traditionally advised patients on a wide range of ailments.

"We have always recommended appropriate treatments to the patient, or if necessary, refer them to another healthcare professional.

“During the current pandemic, the dispensing of prescriptions is still the main focus however some other services are also available.

"These include the Common Ailments Service, Triage and Treat, emergency supply of medication and emergency contraception.

“Some of these services can now be done via telephone consultation, with the patient or a carer/family member collecting any necessary medication.

“Don’t forget to order any repeat medication in plenty of time before you run out.”