The true number is likely to be lower, with The Telegraph revealing this week that some telephone consultations are being counted as face-to-face meetings. Campaigners and patients’ groups have warned that many vulnerable people have been unable to access care, with coroners linking a series of deaths to remote appointments.
But doctor Ellie Cannon claimed that patients were not seeking face-to-face appointments, and in a tweet directed at the Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “There are not enough doctors to do this. Most people I speak to do not want to see a GP when a timely phone call is enough.”
Another doctor, Rachel Warrington, who runs a GP surgery in Bristol said there was no way of reducing social distancing safely and that the “preoccupation with face-to-face appointments is inappropriate”.
She added: “We are seeing patients face-to-face, the only difference is that we know who’s coming in the building. We stagger patients so they’re not overlapping in the waiting room and I think it’s a much safer way to practice medicine instead of what the Health Secretary is proposing we go back to.”
Her comments were echoed by Dr Jess Harvey, a Shropshire GP, who told the BBC’s Radio 4Today Programme: “The more I read and hear about this proposal the less I think the Government understands general practice, how its run and to be honest and the less in touch they are with what is going on in the real world in the NHS and what we’re facing.
“GP staff are currently sacrificing their own health and well-being to maintain a service in what has been a chronically underfunded and under-resourced area for years.
She added: “I think the public needs to understand the staffing pressures that we’re under.
“The abuse that my reception staff have got has escalated beyond my imaginations since Covid and we are facing resignations at the moment from my practice because of this.
“Had there been some sort of defence for us from the Government then that might have helped.
“General practice is on its knees. I don’t know anybody in general practice at the moment who isn’t working their knuckles to the bone and frankly for Mr Javid to describe us as underperforming is insulting. I would invite him to see what I’m doing and tell me where I’m underperforming.
“Where is the evidence? we’re seeing more people than ever. We are seeing more appointemnts than pre-pandemic.
“We have provided over 70 per cent of the vaccination programme that the Government hail as their great success, and that’s general practice doing that, and that was in addition to our normal work.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has defended the Government’s decision to publish league tables for family doctors.
Mr Javid said that providing “more data, more transparency” would help drive up standards at GP practices across the country.
“It is important that patients have this information because I want to see a levelling up of healthcare throughout the country. We do need to understand what the differences are in healthcare provision across throughout the country,” he told Sky News.
He said the Government was providing an additional £250 million in support for GP practices.
“This whole package today is about support. This is all about helping GPs so that they can do what they do best, which is seeing their patients,” he said.
The bluebrint for improving GP services
The blueprint for improving access, published by NHS England working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, includes a number of measures including:
- The new investment will fund locum doctors as well as support for GPs from other health professionals such as physiotherapists and podiatrists.
- The NHS said GP practices must “respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary”.
- Local health systems will be given some freedom to determine how to tackle access problems, which could include “walk-in consultations”.
- But the NHS will “increase its oversight” of practices with the most acute issues in relation to access, it said.
- GP appointment data will be published at practice level by spring – so people will be able to see how well their surgery performs compared to others. The NHS said this will “enhance transparency and accountability”.
- Practices which do not provide “appropriate levels” of face-to-face care will not be able to access the additional funding and will instead be offered support. Though it is not clear what the level of appointments need to be face-to-face.
- The money will help upgrade GP surgery telephone systems – which will hopefully drive down long waits on the phone.
- The Government will reform who can provide medical evidence and certificates such as fit notes and DVLA checks – freeing up more time for appointments.
- – Infection control will be assessed which could lead to social distancing in practices being changed or downgraded.
- Patients will also be able to see different types of clinicians in general practice including nurses, pharmacists and paramedics.
Backlash as doctors hit back at plans
The plans announced by the Health Secretary has prompted a fiery response from health professionals, including the British Medical Association.