Just 26% of consultations in late March and early April took place face-to-face in the first weeks after the lockdown, the Royal College of GPs reported. Further data released by NHS Digital for March showed overall consultation numbers falling – but only very slightly.
Practices reported 23.7 million appointments during March – compared with 25.2 million a year earlier.
The NHS Digital analysis shows an increase in phone consultations – but not an increase in on-line or video consultations.
College chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “This has been a rapid revolution in the way care is delivered in general practice and as a College we are thankful for the way GPs, our teams and our patients have adapted to these new ways of working.
“General practice is not going to become a permanently remote service – many patients want and need to be seen face to face in order to properly address their presenting problems – but having the technological capability to offer remote consultations, where appropriate, will be beneficial for general practice, the wider NHS and most importantly our patients, long after this pandemic has ended.
“Today’s data from NHS Digital also highlights a decline in routine patient consultations since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – although this will not take into account other ways that care is being delivered in general practice, for example via Covid hubs and GPs providing NHS 111 support. Nevertheless, a decline in patients seeking medical help for conditions and illnesses unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic is concerning and could lead to serious consequences, as we have seen in previous health crises.”
NHS Digital said: “Appointments conducted online or via video may also not be routinely captured in appointment books, so a move to these types of appointments could explain some of the observed dip in appointment numbers.”