GPs will ‘always do some in-person appointments’
There will still always be a need for face-to-face appointments – despite there being a rise in phone and video calls during the pandemic, a Shrewsbury GP has said.
NHS Digital data shows demand at GP surgeries across the county jumped in June and Dr Mary McCarthy, a GP at Belvidere Medical Practice in Shrewsbury, says it is anticipated this will continue to climb higher.
She said it was a worry that Covid-19 had caused some patients to delay seeking treatment at the height of the pandemic through fear of the virus.
Across Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, patients booked more than 180,000 appointments with practices in June, although numbers were still not as high as the same month in 2019.
Dr McCarthy, who also represents Shropshire, North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire on the General Practitioners Committee of the British Medical Association, said: "We are still doing a lot of video and phone consultations because we now tend to do that as a preliminary thing.
"Usually it starts off as a phone call and gets converted to video.
"We are bringing in more people now for face-to-face.
"There are still some things we can't deal with without a face-to-face consultation."
She said digital consultations may be beneficial for patients with certain conditions.
"For a certain number of people a lot of this will stay," said Dr McCarthy.
"But there are people, the old, the sick, the learning disabled, the people where it's much more difficult to assess things over the phone."
The trend in the upward number of appointments for June was similar across England as a whole, where 20.6 million appointments were made – 4.3 million more than in May.
The Patients Association has welcomed the rising numbers of people accessing their local doctor across the country but warned continuing use of remote sessions must not become "the new normal” without assessing the benefits to patients.
Chief executive of the Patients Association, Rachel Power said the Secretary of State should publish evidence showing it works for patients.
She added: “Patients have put up with a great deal over recent months to help the NHS cope with an unprecedented emergency – often at considerable cost to their own health and wellbeing.
"Phone, online or other types of virtual appointments cannot be allowed to become the new normal without an assessment of the benefits to patients."
The Royal College of GPs Chairman, Professor Martin Marshall, said a recent survey of RCGP members found 70 per cent of respondents thought telephone consultations increase efficiency.
He added: "However, many patients – and GPs – prefer face-to-face consultations, particularly for patients with complex health needs.
"We need to strike a balance and be able to offer patients a range of access options to GP services to suit their needs and preferences."
An NHS spokesman said: “GPs have had to adjust the way they work to protect people from the risk of the virus – remote consultations offer a convenient, safe option for patients to access care in addition to face-to-face appointments."
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