IT has been said that life will never be the same following the Covid-19 pandemic.

But our "new normal" has even affected the way we access local healthcare.

From booking visits to A&E, live video links with doctors, and receptionists giving a triage service, far-reaching changes are set to revolutionise how we are treated.

Plans were underway well before lockdown to ease pressures on a healthcare service that was creaking - as GPs and A&Es buckled under the strain of increasing demands.

New ways of working were already being put in place to prevent emergency departments becoming bogged down with patients by introducing better methods of triage.

GPs were also looking at ways to use their resources more wisely, including holding telephone consultations.

Those measures were conveniently set in motion as lockdown hit but now it seems they are set to continue.

As well as GP telephone consultations, Clinical Commissioning Groups are introducing “care navigators” to surgeries following trials during the crisis.

Under the scheme, receptionists have had training to triage patients and refer them to the right service.

However, there are some concerns on how those who are less able, such as the elderly, would cope.

June Harrington, 87, who lives in a retirement complex in Hadleigh, told the Echo: “I struggle as it is trying to make an appointment with my GP. I am hard of hearing so I find it difficult when talking to the receptionists at my doctor’s surgery.

“I don’t own a mobile phone as I don’t know how to use one. I use my landline.

“The older generation like myself feel much more at ease when seeing a doctor face-to-face. I certainly don’t know how I would manage having a telephone appointment instead.

“I can’t imagine it would feel as reassuring speaking to a doctor on the phone as what it would in person.”

But innovative ways to relieve some of the pressures have already been underway well before the pandemic.

London-based company, Medic Spot rolled out a new service to pharmacies last year, offering a two-way live video link between patient and doctor with diagnostic technology.

The People’s Chemist, in Southend, took on the service in October 2019.

Owner, Paresh Patel, believes it will help to ease pressure on NHS resources, offering time-strapped visitors a fast and effective alternative to the traditional surgery.

He said: “Increasingly, pharmacists and GPs are working together to provide a health service that’s second to none.

“It makes absolute sense to work as a team, ensuring that patients will benefit from our joint medical expertise, benefitting from peace of mind or relief from discomfort, often much faster than has previously been possible.”

NHS bosses are also trialling a “111 first” model that will see patients calling the triage line to book a visit to A&E if its deemed necessary.

Pilot schemes are under way, with the system going nationwide by the winter.

Under the plans, NHS 111 acts as a triage point so people needing urgent treatment can “book” their care. Some would still go to A&Es, but others may be sent to urgent treatment centres, primary care or “hot clinics”.

A spokesman for campaign group Save Southend NHS, said: “We would not want to see telephone triage become commonplace in A&E departments in Mid and South Essex - or at any other hospital in the UK.

“By their very nature, A&E departments must be fully staffed and open 24x7 ready to accept all or any “blue light” patient and walk-ins.

“With the population of Southend now exceeding 320,000 and growing rapidly it’s vital that we maintain and indeed invest for larger and better A&E services in the town.”

A spokesman for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We already actively encourage people to call NHS 111 before attending our Emergency Departments and from December, all patients across mid and south Essex will be asked to call NHS 111 before attending emergency departments, which will be part of a national programme.”

“This new system will not replace 999 calls for life-threatening emergencies such as a suspected heart attack or stroke.”

A spokesman for Southend and Castle Point and Rochford Clinical Commissioning groups, said: “Practices have made great progress over the past few months in delivering triage and online consultations and will be encouraged to continue.

“All practices are now working to also deliver face to face care, where clinically appropriate, and with appropriate safety measures in place.”