The letter, sent to GPs on 13 May, told practices to offer face-to-face appointments to all patients who requested them.
Pressure group GP Survival launched a petition late on 16 May, calling on Dr Nikki Kanani to 'resign or be removed from her post'. It argued that the document - signed by the NHS England primary care medical director - was ‘inflammatory and insulting’.
The petition, which follows attacks in the media accusing GP practices of being ‘closed’ despite half of all consultations through the pandemic being delivered face-to-face on top of millions of in-person contacts through the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, had reached 1,096 signatures by late morning on 20 May - with GPs saying they have been ‘thrown under the bus’ by NHS leaders.
The petition passed the 1,000-signature mark as the BMA's GP committee prepared to debate a motion of no confidence in NHS England's executive team - and calling for a halt to formal meetings between the BMA GP leadership and NHS England until confidence had been restored.
One GP commented on the petition: ‘As a GP I feel totally let down and feel it was just a publicity stunt to further degrade trust in GPs and enforce the false public opinion that during the pandemic we have been hiding behind closed doors and not been working. In fact demand is at an all-time high.’
Another primary care worker, said: ‘I feel so crushed and demoralised by the demonising of the profession since this announcement. I have worked so hard this past year and feel like we have had no appreciation of having to think on our feet and completely adapt our way of working to keep our patients safe.’
GPs also questioned the timing of the NHS England communication: ‘I have been seeing patients face-to-face when clinically warranted throughout the pandemic both waves so not sure why this has come out now especially with the Indian variant on the horizon.
‘Along with the vaccination programme, GPs are working very hard to maintain a good standard. I don’t feel supported by the higher up people.’
However, other GPs have continued to speak out in support of Dr Kanani, with one saying that it would be ‘the wrong thing to do’ for Dr Kanani to resign.
Dr Kanani doesn't work in isolation. In fact, she has to consult her bosses before responding.— Dr Dean (@DeanEggitt) May 17, 2021
I reiterate - calling for her resignation is the wrong thing to do without further fact-finding of who is culpable.
Don't amputate the wrong limb.
On Wednesday the RCGP moved to set the record straight on the letter after a report in The Times on 18 May quoted an NHS England spokesperson as saying that its guidance had been ‘widely welcomed’ by GPs, including the college.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall insisted the college had not been consulted on the letter, and that it was 'misjudged' and 'showed a lack of understanding of the pressures facing the profession.'
Earlier this week the BMA demanded an urgent meeting with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, condemning 'unrealistic' demands for face-to-face appointments for all patients and highlighting 'unparalleled pressure' on practices.