Patients are increasingly satisfied with the type of appointment they are offered by their GP, a group of doctors has said.
EveryDoctor, which represents 1,700 UK doctors, pointed to the latest GP patient survey which showed that four in five patients were satisfied with the appointment they were offered – compared with under three quarters before the pandemic.
The campaign group said that GPs have been “blamed” for the proportion of telephone consultations offered to patients when they had been instructed by the Government to offer initial consultations on the phone or online.
Dr Julia Grace Patterson, chief executive of EveryDoctor, told a briefing: “It’s a bit of a shock for GPs to have been told vehemently by the health secretary last year that all appointments should be via telephone, and now we are told the absolute opposite and, in fact, blamed for the amount of telephone consultations that have been happening.”
Meanwhile, the group expressed concern that “inflammatory” rhetoric about access to GP services was leading to “abuse” of staff.
It pointed to data from the 2021 GP patient survey which showed that 83% of patients in England would describe their experience of their practice as “good”.
The survey of around 850,000 patients across England also found 82% said they were “satisfied” with the appointment they were offered – up from 73% the year before.
“In terms of patients being satisfied with the type of appointment they’re offered by their GP, this is actually increased from 74% in August 2018, to 82% now,” Dr Patterson said.
She said that she had not heard of a single GP surgery which had closed its doors to patients.
Dr Alison Hobbs, a GP from Sheffield, said that her practice had been offering patients a choice of appointment for four years.
“Over the last eight weeks roughly 10% of patients wanted a face-to-face consultation – that’s what our patients are asking us for.
“Pre-pandemic it was around 45-50%, so that’s a change in the way the public want to come – people are frightened, they don’t want to come into a crowded room where they might get something. If they think it can be done remotely they would prefer for it to be done remotely.
“People are realising that remote consulting is an efficient and safe way of doing things, and patients are understanding that too.”
It comes as it was reported that GPs will soon be given a package of measures to enable them to see more patients in person including cutting paperwork and relaxing some Covid-19 measures in practices.
Commenting on the reports, Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs go into medicine to care for patients, yet they spend a significant amount of their time on box ticking and filling forms, which takes them away from frontline patient care.
“This bureaucracy has an impact on workload in general practice, which has become increasingly ‘undoable’ and is leading to many GPs, and other members of the team, burning out or leaving the profession earlier than planned.
“This is why the college has long called for a system-wide programme to eradicate bureaucratic burdens and unnecessary workload, to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of GPs and allow GPs more time to care for patients, so we’re pleased cuts to bureaucracy are being considered.
“But whilst this urgently needs to be addressed, cutting bureaucracy is only a partial answer to all the issues facing general practice.
“The workforce pressures facing general practice are also long-standing. We need the Government to make good on its manifesto pledge of an additional 6,000 GPs, and 26,000 other primary care professionals, to enter the workforce by 2024.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting GP teams to improve access to face-to-face appointments and have invested to expand capacity, on top of £1.5 billion to the sector until 2023/24 to deliver world-class care to patients.”
Official figures show that 58% of GP appointments in England were face-to-face.
Before the pandemic, in August 2019, four in five appointments were carried out in person.
But Prof Marshall has previously said that it was unlikely that face-to-face appointment rates would return to this figure.
He told the Health and Social Care Committee in September that the current rate was “where we should be” adding that face-to-face appointments “aren’t needed by everybody” and “I don’t think we’re going to go back to 80% of consultations in general practice being face-to-face”.
In July last year, then health Secretary Matt Hancock said that all initial GP appointments “should be teleconsultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to”.
And the NHS’s Long Term Plan, published in 2019, put forward proposals for all patients to be given a “digital-first” option for accessing GP care, should they want it.