Responding to a letter from NHS England to GP practices which instructs them that they must offer face-to-face appointments to patients, Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said:
“GPs have been working incredibly hard to keep their services as accessible as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic, with most offering virtual triage as the first point of contact in order to help keep their workforce and communities safe. This is exactly what the Government has been encouraging them to do.
“This does not mean practices have stopped face-to-face appointments, and they continue to be offered where safe and necessary. Any inference that in-person consultations were put on hold is an affront to the committed GPs who have continued to go to work throughout the pandemic.
“Thanks to the dedication of practice teams across the country, problems can now often be dealt with more efficiently, and redirecting patients to the appropriate professional service, such as digital physiotherapy consultations, social prescribers or pharmacy, is much quicker. Surgeries should be commended for adapting so quickly and seamlessly to what was – and remains - a massive shift in their usual working pattern and the Government needs to do much more to recognise and support practices doing this.
“There will always be a need for some patients to see their GP or another clinician in person, and where it is safe to do so and clinically appropriate practices will always ensure this is facilitated. Practices also remain committed to making sure their services are accessible to those without access to digital consultations, or who struggle to use technology.
“However, practice workload has also significantly increased as a result of the ongoing impact of the pandemic on other NHS services and the unprecedented number of people waiting for postponed procedures. NHSEI and Government have so far failed to recognise the significant impact this is having on general practice and should be tackling this as a priority.
“Technology can support GPs and their teams deliver good quality care to their patients, and improve access at the same time but it is clearly not a complete solution. Regardless of how patients wish to receive their care, general practice remains open for business and GPs continue to give communities the care they need, be it via video, phone, or face-to-face.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.