Last reviewed 16 September 2020
NHS England has written to all GP practices to make sure they are communicating the fact doctors can be seen in person if necessary, as well as virtually.
In March, GPs were urged to move to remote consultations where possible in an attempt to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
The result was a surge in the number of appointments conducted at a distance. According to NHS Digital, half of the 102 million appointments from March to July were by video or phone call and in May alone, 48% of GP appointments were carried out over the phone.
NHS England said research suggested nearly two thirds of the public were happy to have a phone or video call with their doctor but that, ahead of winter, the Government wanted to make sure people knew they could see their GP if needed. A communications toolkit is therefore being rolled out to practices to help them remind patients that face-to-face access is possible.
However, NHS England reminded GPs they face enforcement action if they fail to offer face-to-face appointments when necessary on medical grounds, where failure to do so would be a breach of their contract.
NHS England Medical Director of Primary Care Nikki Kanani acknowledged that GPs had adapted quickly in recent months to offer remote consultations and "safe face-to-face care when needed”.
Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Chair Professor Martin Marshall said general practice was "open and has been throughout the pandemic" with a predominantly remote service to help stop the spread of coronavirus. He added that any implication GPs had not been doing their job properly was "an insult".
Responding to the letter from NHS England, British Medical Association (BMA) GP Committee (GPC) Chair Dr Richard Vautrey said GPs had been working incredibly hard to keep their services as accessible as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic, with most offering virtual triage as the first point of contact in order to help keep their workforce and communities safe. He said: “This does not mean practices have stopped face-to-face appointments, and they continue to be offered where safe and necessary. Any inference that in-person consultations were put on hold is an affront to the committed GPs who have continued to go to work throughout the pandemic."