Just one in four GP appointments face-to-face over past month

Just a quarter of GP appointments in England were delivered face-to-face in the past month, according to RCGP data that show how primary care has revolutionised services in response to COVID-19.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Grainge Photography)
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Grainge Photography)

In the four weeks to 12 April, 71% of GP appointments were delivered by telephone and just 26% face-to-face, according to figures collected by the RCGP's surveillance centre.

Over the same four-week period in 2019, 71% of appointments were delivered face-to-face and just a quarter by telephone - almost the reverse of the latest figures.

Despite this, the college has warned that many practices are being held back by poor IT equipment that has left GPs unable to work remotely - and has called on the government to roll out technology immediately to allow all primary care doctors to deliver video consultations.

GP consultations

Routine clinical activity has dropped by 25% compared with the same time last year, according to the RCGP surveillance figures - based on data from around 500 practices - and clinical administrative work is down by 28%.

The RCGP has cautioned against using these workload figures as a barometer for pressure on primary care, however. GPonline reported earlier this month that the BMA's GP committee chair believed that as many as one in four GPs may be off sick or self-isolating - while other GPs have taken on additional work with NHS 111 or been redeployed into hospital roles.

A poll of more than 1,000 GPs by the college shows that around half have been unable to work from home during the coronavirus outbreak, with 63% of these doctors saying technology was a factor. Among the half of GPs who are able to work from home, 55% said virtual private network (VPN) connectivity - the ability to link up securely to their practice systems and patient data remotely - was a problem.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'We've seen a very rapid and necessary revolution in the way care is delivered in general practice and the way GPs, our teams and our patients have adapted to this has been remarkable.

Primary care IT systems

'However, we are still facing barriers – many GPs, for example, are telling us they are having technological difficulties with working remotely from home due to a lack of adequate hardware and software. This means that they can't undertake patient consultations if they are having to self-isolate but still well enough to work, and affects capacity across the rest of the service.

'We need this to be addressed urgently, so that GPs can continue to play a vital role in safely delivering care to patients with non-COVID conditions – as well as those with the virus – during this pandemic.'

The college chair also called on NHS leaders and the government to 'safeguard the technological advances we have made during the pandemic' - to ensure that general practice has the capacity to offer patients greater access to phone and video consultations in future.

He said: 'This is not to say that general practice is going to become a permanently remote service – many patients want and need to be seen face-to-face in order to properly address their presenting problems – but having the technological capability to offer remote consultations, where appropriate, will be beneficial for general practice, the wider NHS and most importantly our patients.'

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