Face-to-face GP consultations up 70% since start of lockdown

Face-to-face GP consultations have risen 70% compared with the early stages of lockdown, analysis of RCGP data by GPonline reveals.

GPs delivered 144.2 consultations face-to-face per 10,000 patients in the week beginning 29 June, RCGP surveillance data show.

This is 71% more than the figure recorded for the week beginning 6 April, when face-to-face consultations dropped to 84.5 per 10,000 patients - the lowest point seen during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the rise in face-to-face consultations since lockdown began on 23 March, however, they continue to make up a relatively small proportion of consultations overall.

GP workload

In the 15-week period between 23 March and 5 July - weeks 13 to 27 of 2020 - face-to-face consultations have accounted for just 24% of GP contacts with patients compared with 71% over the same period in 2019, GPonline analysis of RCGP data reveals.

In week 27, face-to-face consultations rose to 27% of the total delivered by GPs, with telephone consultations dropping below 70% for the first time since lockdown began. GPs delivered around 14 e-consultations per 10,000 patients in week 27 - around five times the number in the same week in 2019.

Home visits have also risen slightly over recent weeks - but remain at around a third of normal levels.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'Current official advice is for general practice services to be delivered remotely where possible. However, GPs and our teams are noticing that as lockdown measures ease, and GP appointments begin to return to normal, there has been an increase in the number of face-to-face consultations required.'

Remote consultations

Remote consultations were 'not always appropriate' - for example when patients needed physical examination or a childhood vaccination, the RCGP chair said - and patients who had avoided GP services during the peak of the pandemic were now coming forward.

'Minimising the spread of the virus and keeping patients and general practice staff safe remains a top priority and as such if we do experience a second wave patients can expect GP services will adapt accordingly and in line with government advice,' Professor Marshall added.

GP leaders have said that workload in primary care is returning to pre-pandemic levels, and have warned that the high proportion of care currently being delivered remotely does not equate to reduced work per patient contact.

A GPonline poll revealed last week that most GPs think more than half of consultations should continue to be delivered remotely after the pandemic subsides - echoing a prediction from Professor Marshall earlier this year.

However, the data show that despite practices beginning to shift back to seeing more patients face-to-face as the UK moves beyond the first wave of coronavirus, any shift back towards pre-pandemic working patterns will be slow.

Professor Marshall told GPonline earlier this year that around half of GP consultations were likely to be delivered remotely on a permanent basis following the pandemic - but that the shift away from face-to-face care came with risks that would need careful management.

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