GPs need more cash, thousands more doctors and extra space in surgeries before returning to pre-pandemic levels of face-to-face appointments, leading medic claims
- Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of BMA’s GP committee, said the NHS needs doctors
- But he denied claims from patients people are receiving worse care over phone
- Sajid Javid said as normal life returns, GPs should be offering face-to-face visits
Returning to pre-pandemic levels of face-to-face GP appointments cannot happen without more funding, a leading doctor has claimed.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said the NHS needs thousands more family doctors – as well as extra space in surgeries – to allow more patients to be seen in-person.
But he denied claims from patients that people are receiving worse care as a result of appointments carried out online or by telephone.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that as life starts to return to normal, more GPs should be offering face-to-face access, adding: ‘We intend to do a lot more about it.’
Dr Richard Vautrey (pictured), chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said the NHS needs thousands more family doctors – as well as extra space in surgeries – to allow more patients to be seen in-person
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An early wave of the winter vomiting bug is threatening plans to clear the NHS backlog.
Cases of norovirus have been surging above the five-year average for six weeks in a row.
Public Health England (PHE) has identified 55 per cent more cases in the past month than it would expect at this time of year.
Officials say the out-of-season rise is due to relaxed Covid control measures, pupils returning to school and more socialising.
Levels of the virus have been low for 18 months, with the total number of cases this year down 64 per cent at the end of July.
It means there has been a reduction in population immunity, leaving more people susceptible to the virus as they return to normal life. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, but can also include a high temperature, abdominal pain and aching limbs.
Hospitals are forced to close wards when there is an outbreak to control its spread.
PHE recorded 291 lab-confirmed cases in the four weeks to August 29, the latest figures reveal – up from an average of 187 for the same period in the five years before Covid.
The figures represent a fraction of total infections nationwide, but are a reliable indicator of overall activity in England. Major bed losses would make it harder for the NHS to tackle record waiting lists of 5.6million.
Although the NHS has already been promised billions of pounds in new taxes to fix the health and social care crisis, the union says significant sums need specifically to be allocated to GPs.
Dr Vautrey told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The pressures on services are incredible but we recognise that there aren’t enough GPs, there aren’t enough nurses.
‘To resolve that we need the Secretary of State, we need the Government, to act to do what they promised – which is to recruit 6,000 more GPs, to invest in our premises, to invest in our staff and our service – and by doing that we will get a better service for our patients.’
Asked if some patients were right in believing they had received worse care because of being denied face-to-face appointments, the doctors’ union representative said: ‘No, I don’t think that.’
He said doctors understood patients’ frustrations and would always see them face-to-face when ‘necessary to do so’.
He also insisted consultations would always be offered in person where patients needed physical examinations.
‘We want to see our patients too. We need the number of GPs to increase to do that and we need the space within our surgeries to be able to do that safely,’ Dr Vautrey added.
His comments came after a coroner warned that remote GP consultations may have contributed to the deaths of five people. And, earlier this week, Mr Javid told the Commons: ‘I think everyone can understand why, during the height of the pandemic, GPs couldn’t provide access in the normal way.
‘But we’re way past that now. Life is starting to return almost back to completely normal and as that is happening it should be happening in our GP surgeries too.’
However, when challenged by Tory MP Paul Holmes about if GPs could be ‘instructed’ to hold in-person appointments, Mr Javid said patients should have a choice as some may prefer virtual access.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured yesterday) has said that as life starts to return to normal, more GPs should be offering face-to-face access, adding: ‘We intend to do a lot more about it.
But Dr Vautrey stressed that, even before the pandemic, his union had been ‘really frustrated’ by a ‘lack of support’ from the Government over a GP shortfall.
He added: ‘It’s ironic, isn’t it? I’ve had to write three times to the Secretary of State in the last two months to seek a face-to-face appointment – and he’s not yet had the courtesy to answer even the letters.’
A BMA petition calling for the Government to fund general practice and source more GPs has more than 10,000 signatures. A separate petition calling for a legal right for patients to receive timely face-to-face GP appointments has more than 16,000 signatures.
An NHS spokesman said: ‘Every GP practice must provide face-to-face, as well as telephone and online, appointments. Continuing to offer all of these methods of consultation is part of making primary care as accessible as possible.’