Sajid Javid urges GPs to see patients face-to-face

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Health Secretary Sajid Javid has urged GPs to see their patients face-to-face despite trade union warnings that a large-scale return to surgery is “impractical” and “impractical”.

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Mr Javid told lawmakers on Tuesday that the government “intends to do a lot” to ensure that individual consultations proceed, but did not say what specific actions ministers would take.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Dean Russell raised concerns over some GP surgeries in his Watford constituency, which he claimed are “still not opening their doors” to see patients.


Asked whether he believed face-to-face consultations should resume immediately, Mr Javid replied: “Yes, I agree with (Mr Russell).

“I think everyone can understand why GPs could not provide access in the usual way during the height of the pandemic.

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“But we have gone that way, now that life is almost completely back to normal and as that is happening, it should be in our GP surgeries as well, offering more GPs face-to-face access. “

Mr Javid declined to answer whether he could “instruct” GPs to return to work, noting that some patients also prefer virtual appointments.

He added: “The important thing is that those who want to make a face-to-face appointment should be made available. The department is looking at what measures can be taken.”

Responding to Mr Javid’s comments, Dr Richard Voutray, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) GP committee, said the proposal was “impractical”.

“Life is not quite normal – the number of COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations continues to rise and there are now just 0.46 GPs per 1,000 patients in England, down from 0.52 in 2015,” he said.

“Suggesting a return to the pre-pandemic way of working is as impractical as it is impractical for GPs. They need to see patients as safely as possible, often in unsuitable premises and anywhere without adequate staff to do so.

“They’re also trying to look at everyone who is on huge waiting lists who haven’t been able to get the care they need in the last 18 months – a backlog that didn’t exist before the pandemic struck.”

Mr Javid’s comments come as GPs face abuse as the system becomes overwhelmed by demand. Due to shortage of GP, patients are also facing delay in taking appointments.

A survey of more than 330 GP practices across London in June found that over half said the current demand on them was unbearable, with 82 per cent warning it was affecting the well-being of staff. Four-fifths of practices said patient satisfaction was being affected.

NHS England wrote to GPs in May this year urging them to return to offering patients face-to-face appointments without prior telephone or online triage. Village panchayats were told that remote appointments “should be done in person with a clear offer of appointments”.

This reversed a policy that had been in place since the start of the pandemic, when GPs were asked to adopt a “total triage” approach and only see patients in person after remote consultations.


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