United Kingdom

GPs face calls to reopen amid concerns they prefer working from home

GPS are facing calls to resume face-to-face appointments amid concerns they are using the pandemic as a ‘stealthy’ way of changing how they deal with patients.

Since March, surgeries have dealt with patients at arm’s length to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19. 

Many have asked patients to fill in online forms before granting an appointment and subsequent consultations often take place on the phone. 

Some surgeries have locked their doors to face-to-face appointments altogether.

Since March, surgeries have dealt with patients at arm’s length to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19. Pictured: Stock photo of a GP in a remote consultation during lockdown

But critics say that the new system has made it harder for people to access GP care, particularly those who are less tech savvy. 

Official figures show the number of GP consultations in England fell from 27.1 million in January to 16.4 million during May. 

Face-to-face appointments plummeted from 21.7 to 7.7 million while those dealt with on the phone is up from 3.7 to 7.8 million. Video consultations fell from 194,206 to just 41,560.

The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs appear keen to continue with what they call ‘new ways of working’, including working from home, after the pandemic.

On June 12, they said that GPs should continue ‘maximising remote consultations’ when the UK’s Covid-19 Response Level drops from its current 3 to 2, signalling the situation is ‘normalising’. 

When it drops to 1 – the pandemic is over – the document states: ‘All [GP] services in place. New ways of working established.’

But former Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter, a Tory MP and doctor, said: ‘Virtual consultations can bring benefits for patients, but are also fraught with dangers… A GP cannot properly examine a patient through a computer screen or over the phone, so the danger is that more vulnerable patients do not receive the care they need, or are forced to attend A&E.’

But former Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter (pictured), a Tory MP and doctor, said: ‘Virtual consultations can bring benefits for patients, but are also fraught with dangers'

Tory MP and GP Dr James Davies said: ‘There’s no question that, beyond the pandemic, there is scope for the ongoing use of remote consultations. 

But “remote” working shouldn’t be used as an excuse to abandon face-to-face consultations wholesale and not open up GP surgeries as lockdown is relaxed.’

Louise Smith, 26, is one of tens of thousands with pernicious anaemia, which prevents Vitamin B12 absorption. 

Sufferers need B12 jabs every two to three months or suffer nerve damage, fatigue and neurological problems, but many surgeries stopped the jabs after they were deemed ‘lower priority’.

Sufferers need B12 jabs every two to three months or suffer nerve damage, fatigue and neurological problems, but many surgeries stopped the jabs after they were deemed ‘lower priority’. Pictured: Stock photo of a GP giving a patient a jab

Miss Smith, from Chelmsford, whose last jab was in March, said: ‘I’ve been battling my GP for weeks for an injection.’ 

She started getting pins and needles, an early sign of nerve damage, and limb numbness. 

She now fears permanent problems if she does not get a jab. ‘I feel like a ticking time bomb,’ she said.

Spitalfields Group Practice in East London has continued seeing many patients face-to-face, with a ‘hot room’ for those who might have Covid-19. 

Dr Anwara Ali said: ‘You can’t do everything remotely. I don’t know what’s happening elsewhere, but our patients know they can always see a doctor.’

Dr Jonathan Leach, of the RCGP, said: ‘We are acutely aware that some patients… prefer seeing their GP in person, and this is a preference for many GPs, as well.’

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