Face-to-face GP appointments fell by one MILLION last month – despite restrictions being scrapped


One million fewer face-to-face GP appointments took place last month – in a rate similar to the winter lockdown, figures showed yesterday.

Just 13.7million of the 23.9million GP consultations in August were in person, according to NHS England.

This is down from 14.6million the month before and 18.1million in August 2019, before the pandemic.

The proportion of face-to-face appointments in August – 57.7 per cent – is not much higher than January’s 54 per cent, even though all legal restrictions have now been scrapped.

Just 13.7million of the 23.9million GP consultations in August were in person, according to NHS England (stock image)

More than ten million GP appointments are held remotely each month – three times as many as before the pandemic when 80 per cent were face-to-face.

The Mail is campaigning for GPs to get back to seeing patients, amid fears the rise in phone and video consultations has led to serious illnesses such as cancer being missed. Our campaign has been backed by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, and Boris Johnson – who said people were ‘entitled’ to see a GP in person. But yesterday’s data shows that family doctors are yet to resume normal service.

Dennis Reed of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s which is pressing for a legal right to see doctors in person, said firm action was needed.

He added: ‘My general reaction is one of frustration, it is shocking and disturbing that levels of face-to-face appointments have not increased since lockdown ended.

‘There has been so much public concern and statements from politicians in recent weeks, but it appears none of that is making a great deal of difference.

‘Doctors cannot use Covid as an excuse any more. There was a good reason why face-to-face apppointments shut down during the pandemic. But the whole economy and society is now moving back to life before Covid, yet the pattern of GP appointments has not changed.

‘We’ve heard statements from Sajid Javid saying he will take firm action on this, but we need to see bold action not just words. There should be incentives if practices improve face-to-face ratios and penalties if they don’t.’

During the first wave, between April and July last year, the proportion of face-to-face appointments dropped below 50 per cent.

Last night, it emerged GPs will receive additional funding to help them resume pre-pandemic levels of face-to-face care this winter.

A planning document from NHS England said the extra investment covering October to March aimed to ensure all practices are ‘delivering appropriate pre-pandemic appointment levels, including face-to-face care’.

So far this year, the proportion of in-person appointments has been between 50 per cent and 60 per cent. Mr Javid has warned doctors that those who continue to provide an unacceptably low level of face-to-face access will be held to account.

He has said he will slash red tape to give family doctors time to undertake more appointments in person.

Yesterday’s data also revealed there is a huge postcode lottery in face-to-face appointments.

Dennis Reed of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s which is pressing for a legal right to see doctors in person, said firm action was needed (stock image)

Dennis Reed of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s which is pressing for a legal right to see doctors in person, said firm action was needed (stock image)

In some areas, including North Tyneside, close to three quarters of consultations were in person.

But in south-east London, East Staffordshire and parts of Merseyside, less than half of consultations are face-to-face.

A key point in the Mail’s campaign is that patients should be able to get in-person appointments regardless of where they live.

GP leaders have warned that face-to-face appointments will never return to pre-pandemic levels, highlighting a lack of funding and staff.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the latest figures show it is a ‘misconception’ that GPs are not seeing patients face-to-face.

He added: ‘Remote consulting will not always be appropriate.

‘This is why in-person appointments are being made – making up almost six in ten consultations in August – and have been throughout the pandemic when they’ve been necessary. Face-to-face consulting will always be an essential part of general practice.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Every GP practice must provide face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointments as part of making primary care as accessible as possible for patients.’

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