GP leaders were angered today by suggestions that some practices have been refusing patients face to face appointments.
NHS England was writing a letter to all practices, reinforcing previous guidance that they must offer in person appointments and threatening enforcement if this did not happen. The Royal College of GPs said there was no evidence that practices had refused personal appointments despite a huge shift to telephone consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NHS England letter appeared intended to reassure patients that GP services are available, helping to prevent overloading of emergency departments ahead of the winter and the feared second pandemic surge.
NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani said: “The last few months has seen general practice playing a vital role in the fight against coronavirus, adapting quickly to significantly increase the availability of video and phone consultations and offer safe face-to-face care when needed. While many people, particularly those most vulnerable to COVID-19 want the convenience of a consultation over the phone or video, the NHS has been and will continue to offer face-to-face appointments and I would urge anyone who feels they need medical support to come forward so they can get the care, support and advice they need — the NHS is here for you.”
The organisation says it accepts that two thirds of the population are happy to speak to a doctor or member of practice staff by phone. Most practices have adopted phone triage, encouraging patients to use the phone as the first point of contact.
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “Any implication that they have not been doing their job properly is an insult to GPs and their teams who have worked throughout the pandemic, continued delivering the vast majority of patient care in the NHS, and face an incredibly difficult winter ahead. Data from the College’s Research and Surveillance Centre shows that routine GP appointments are back to near-normal levels for this time of the year, following a slump around the peak of the pandemic. The proportion of face to face appointments being delivered has also increased since the peak of the pandemic – each and every day last week an estimated third of a million appointments were delivered face to face by general practices across the country.”
He added: “General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic. GPs have been delivering a predominantly remote service in order to comply with official guidance and help stop the spread of COVID-19. As well as delivering routine care to patients with both COVID and non-COVID conditions, GPs have been working in COVID ‘hot hubs’, identifying those at most risk from the virus and advising them on how to stay safe, and supporting NHS 111 and other areas of the NHS.”