GPs limit face-to-face contact with patients as LMCs warn routine appointments will stop

GP practices are limiting face-to-face contact with patients during the coronavirus pandemic, as LMCs warned patients that routine appointments are likely to be suspended.

Telephone consultation (Photo: Martin Prescott/Getty Images)
Telephone consultation (Photo: Martin Prescott/Getty Images)

GP leaders in Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire warned on 13 March that the COVID-19 pandemic is having 'an unprecedented impact on the NHS, stretching services that were already struggling'.

Statements sent out by both LMCs said it was 'imperative that patients understand that they will see rapid changes in the way Derbyshire general practice functions' as the pandemic spreads.

Routine GP appointments are likely to be suspended to allow practices to concentrate on caring for patients who are the most unwell, the LMCs warned.

Online GP consultations

Face-to-face appointments will shift to 'telephone and virtual' consultations and all patients will be triaged by a medical professional to determine whether they need an appointment.

The LMCs said the changes were 'designed to reduce the spread of the virus and minimise the impact of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable and frail patients'.

The warning from Derbyshire GPs about major changes to general practice services as the coronavirus outbreak spreads came as the number of confirmed UK cases surged to 798 on 13 March - up from 590 24 hours earlier - with 10 patients confirmed dead.

Practices across the UK have already begun implementing major changes to how they work.

Coronavirus

One Norfolk practice covering more than 11,000 patients shifted to carrying out all routine GP appointments by telephone from 11 March. The Long Stratton Medical Partnership has told patients that 'following a telephone appointment if the doctor needs to see a patient arrangements will be made accordingly'.

A branch surgery has been closed, and the practice has implemented a three-hour 'lockdown period' between noon and 3pm 'so that all chronic on-the-day respiratory patients can be seen, thus limiting the risk to others'. Letters and repeat prescription requests are being delivered to an outside postbox.

East London GP and Newham Central 1 PCN clinical director Dr Farzana Hussain told GPonline that her practice planned to shift 90% of consultations online.

She explained: 'With the coronavirus situation becoming very real for us - we had a suspect case last Friday which tested negative - we are keen to protect our staff as well as patients from unnecessary contact so do not want people with flu-like symptoms to come to the practice.'

A GP in Gloucestershire said on Twitter that practices across the area had moved to primarily online/telephone consultations, with a practice dispensary 'handing out medicines through the window into the car park'.

Warnings over the suspension of routine appointments came as EMIS - a major supplier of GP IT systems in England - announced it would make video consultation software available free of charge across thousands of GP practices for the next 12 weeks.

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