Prior to the coronavirus pandemic around 75% of GP appointments took place face to face in the GP practice, but telephone appointments appear to be the new normal.
A major survey by the Royal College of GPs was carried out over two weeks up to 22 July 2020, involving 859 GPs. The survey has confirmed that 61% of GP appointments are by telephone call, 18% are telephone triage assessments, 18% are home visits (usually for those patients with significant health concerns and/or mobility issues), 6% via text message and just 4% via video call. This means that at the moment only one in ten appointments are occurring face to face at the GP surgery.
Only recently in late April 2020 Matt Hancock pledged to restore regular NHS services. The Health Secretary will also shortly confirm the government’s plans for how services are to be provided in future. 70% of the GP’s interviewed for the survey said that telephone appointments increased their efficiency, with 76% saying that telephone triage also increased their efficiency.
Professor Martin Marshall, who leads the Royal College of GP’s has advised “These changed were made out of necessity – to keep our patients and our teams safe and to help stop the spread of Covid-19 – but there is a compelling case to retain some aspects of the different ways we’ve been working”
Professor Martin Marshall, who leads the Royal College of GP’s has said, “These changes were made out of necessity – to keep our patients and our teams safe and to help stop the spread of Covid-19 – but there is a compelling case to retain some aspects of the different ways we’ve been working”.
The Royal College of GP’s is currently waiting for confirmation from NHS England on whether more face-to-face appointments can be offered by GPs. Understandably many patients are concerned that their GP surgery will not reopen for some time, or that the traditional face to face GP appointments may become a thing of the past.
At Freeths we have previously raised concerns that telephone and video appointments can result in new and worsening symptoms and conditions being missed, putting patients’ health at risk. Many health experts share this view.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “The predominance of telephone consultation suggests the NHS is still compromising heavily on this in the interests of minimising coronavirus infection rates…We support the emergency measures taken earlier in the year by the NHS, but some patients are now telling us they are concerned that their GP’s practice might never reopen fully…We would like to hear more from the NHS about how it will be assessing the impact of recent changes on patients, and how it will work with patients to ensure it meets their needs in general practice, including restoring higher numbers of face-to-face appointments.”
Rebecca Fisher, a GP in Oxford and of the Health Foundation think-tank, said: ‘GPs are trying to find the safest ways to meet the needs of their patients, but we have to be alert to the possibility that switching to predominantly phone consultations may have unintended consequences...We might be missing things, or making it harder for certain patients to access general practice, for example, for people without access to the internet, or for whom using phones is challenging.”
Dr Max Pemberton has said that, “proposals to encourage – or ‘coerce’ – the majority of patients into GP telephone or virtual consultations rather than face-to-face appointments will have devastating consequences.” He has raised concerns that, “In a few years, it will end up costing many more lives than coronavirus ever did.”
Claire Cooper, Clinical Negligence Associate at Freeths agrees, “We have already raised concerns about the approach of routinely offering telephone GP appointments. Telephone triage often still results in a telephone appointment with a GP, and it remains unclear as to whether a patient can insist on an appointment with their GP or not. Many medical conditions rely on a visual or physical examination of a patient’s body and I am concerned that by failing to offer those examinations in person it could result in new symptoms and worsening conditions being missed”.
She added “I am aware that some local hospital Trusts, including University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, are also offering consultations by video. This could result in a patient not seeing any medical professional in person for some time, and in some cases at all. Myself and my colleagues are concerned that these patients may unfairly suffer additional delays in both diagnosis and treatment. I also think that this process will cause considerable anxiety for patients, and in particular those who are additionally vulnerable by way of disability, those with special educational needs, and the elderly.”
Although we are, for the time being, not able to meet clients in person, our specialist clinical negligence team at Freeths is here to support and advise clients. We are available for meetings and consultations via any digital platform that works for you including via telephone, email, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype.
If you are concerned about any treatment which you or a loved one have received, please contact our team:-
Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke on Trent/Birmingham/Manchester/Liverpool) on 0845 272 5677 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/Bristol/London/Milton Keynes) on 0186 578 1019 or email@example.com
Jane Williams, Partner (Leicester/Nottingham/Sheffield/Leeds) on 0845 272 5724 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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