Government commissions review of remote GP consultations

The government has commissioned a review of remote GP consultations after months of criticism of general practice over access to face-to-face care.

Remote consultation review (Photo: Boonchai Wedmakawand/Getty Images)

The work, which will be led by consultancy firm RSM, will help to ‘evidence the impacts of remote consultations on patients and general practice' - assessing the advantages of different consulting methods and setting out best practice.

NHS England will use the results to identify the types of support practices find helpful when implementing new digital systems and tools, and to discover what has worked well for patients and staff following changes made during the pandemic.

The review comes after RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall urged the government earlier this year to carry out a comprehensive review of total triage and remote consultations - warning the college was against the profession becoming ‘a totally, or even mostly, remote service'.

Remote consultations

Health professionals taking part in the review will be asked about topics including the impact of online consultation tools to support patient access and triage, aspects of online consultations which should be abandoned and the impact of new technologies on workload.

GPs, practice nurses and administrative and managerial staff directly involved in the implementation and delivery of online consultations have been invited to take part in the survey.

NHS England has said that a ‘small number of practices’ will be invited to take part in case studies, involving engagement with the 'wider practice team'. The report is expected to be published next May, with the results helping to form ‘recommendations to drive improvements’.

Pandemic work patterns

Themes to be explored in the review include:

  • The implementation and use of online consultation tools to support patient access and triage: understanding workflow processes and their impact (e.g. what models are practices using to help them manage demand, what is working and what is not?)
  • Different consultation modalities and their relative advantages and disadvantages (e.g. online, text message, video, telephone)
  • Lessons from implementation during the pandemic (e.g. what aspects of digitally supported triage and online consultations would practice staff like to keep, or abandon, due to their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and why?)
  • Patient experiences (e.g. patient satisfaction, digital inclusion, safety, continuity of care and communication preferences)
  • Workforce experiences (e.g. workload, workforce impacts, staff preferences)

The review launches at a time when the debate around the use of remote consulting has become polarised, with the government pushing for GPs to increase the amount of patients they are seeing face-to-face.

Statistics from NHS Digital show that practices delivered more than 17.3m in-person appointments in September, with face-to-face contacts accounting for a higher proportion than at any time since March 2020 at 61% of the total.

A commitment in the NHS long-term plan states that every patient will have the right to be offered digital-first primary care by 2023/24. Health secretary Sajid Javid recently said that GPs should respect patients’ choice to ask for an in-person consultation.

A link to the review survey can be found here.

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