Access remains one of the scandals of the Covid crisis with millions unable to get an appointment for a physical examination. As the Daily Express revealed yesterday MacMillan Cancer Support blames disruption caused by the pandemic, including not being able to see a GP, on the fact 50,000 people have cancer which has not yet been diagnosed. That figure is set to double in just 12 months.
In a letter sent to 7,000 surgeries in England and 135 Clinical Commissioning Groups – which manage GP practice performance against their contracts – NHS England made sanctions clear.
Dr Nikita Kanani, the Medical Director for Primary Care, and Ed Waller, the Director, Primary Care Strategy and NHS Contracts, said: “Many of you will be aware of reports by some patients that they are experiencing difficulty in accessing their GP for needed face–to-face appointments. We are writing to reiterate the importance of providing face-to-face appointments for those who need them and to share materials designed to support your clear communication with patients about how they can access the right type of appointment for them.
“We know the vast majority of practices have made significant efforts to remain accessible to patients through the pandemic, and to keep staff and patients safe.
“However, it remains critical information for patients about how they can access services is clear, encourages patients to consult where necessary, and that face to face care always remains available when clinically appropriate, provided in line with these requirements.”
If required, unremedied contract breaches can lead to appropriate contract sanctions, including termination of contract. Such action has not been taken yet.
An NHS spokesman said: “There were over 120 million GP appointments for a range of conditions throughout the pandemic, with over half of these carried out face to face. GPs were recently reminded of the importance of continuing to offer face to face consultations and the new Help Us Help You campaign emphasises that anyone who needs care should contact their local practice.”
NHS data shows there were 20.08 million appointments in August, of which 10.38 million were face to face. It estimated
However, figures obtained by this newspaper from the Royal College of General Practitioners revealed just three in 10 GP appointments are now held face-to-face as millions of patients stay away from surgeries or are too frightened to ask for help. In the three months between July and September, doctors in England delivered 38.6 million routine appointments with 68 percent – some 26.3 million – carried out remotely. During the same period last year they delivered 41.2 million appointments with 73 percent – or 30.1 million – held face to face.
At Lee Road surgery in Lewisham, south-east London, 28,275 appointments were provided to patients between March and September last year, of which 80 percent were face-to-face and 20 percent were held remotely, either over the phone or by video. During the same period this year 29,675 appointments were provided, of which 21 percent were face-to-face and 79 percent were remote.
A spokesman for NHS South East London Clinical Commissioning Group said: “Please note the shift in appointment types reflects national guidance for GP practices on maintaining services for patients while keeping both patients and staff safe in response to the category four major incident that was declared earlier this year, which is still in force.”