GP leaders have rejected new allegations that doctors refused patients face to face consultations during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Daily Mail published a new survey of patients finding that nearly two-thirds of patients claimed they were refused a face to face consultation after 1 April – reporting they were offered phone or video calls instead. About a third said they chose to put off making appointments – and 60% said they had personal concerns about visiting practices. 70% said their local practice only offered a limited number of face to face appointments.
Data released last week by NHS Digital showed a slight switch back to face to face appointments. In August more than 50% of appointments with GPs and practice staff were face to face for the first time since lockdown while 43.5% were undertaken by phone.
Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power said: “The relationship between GPs and patients has clearly suffered a profound rupture. It’s still easy to find patients who are struggling to see their GP in person. But it’s also clear some are deliberately staying away, either for fear of getting coronavirus or in the spirit of the ‘protect the NHS’ message from earlier in the year.”
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “When remote consultations have been unsuitable – such as for vaccinations or when a physical examination is required – face to face consultations have been arranged and will continue to be. We know remote consultations suit some patients better than others, but generally we’ve found that patients have understood the changes and the rationale for them. GPs are following Government guidance and have done everything they’ve needed to do to minimise the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of patients and frontline health professionals.
“We understand that some patients prefer the face to face personalised service that they are used to – and that many GPs also prefer this way of consulting. However, the challenge of infection control isn’t going away and there has been a rapid rise in the number of people testing positive for COVID. Of course, the success of remote consultations relies heavily on robust technology which is why the College called on the Government at the start of the pandemic for a remote care plan – including access to laptops, appropriate VPN connectivity and video consultations software – to ensure every GP practice has the necessary technology to effectively deliver remote services.”