‘Life is starting to return almost back to completely normal’ says health secretary
Mr Javid told MPs on Tuesday that the Government “intends to do a lot more” to ensure in-person consultations go ahead, but did not reveal 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 were “still not opening their doors” to see patients.
Asked whether he believes that face-to-face consultations should resume immediately, Mr Javid responded: “Yes, I agree with (Mr Russell).
“I think everyone can understand why during the height of the pandemic that 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, and more GPs should be offering face-to-face access.”
Mr Javid declined to answer whether he could “instruct” GPs to go back to work, noting that some patients also prefer a virtual appointment.
He added: “The important thing is that for those who want to have a face-to-face appointment it should be made available. The department is looking at what measures can be taken.”
Responding to Mr Javid’s comments, Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) GP committee, said the proposal was “unworkable”.
“Life is absolutely not back to normal – the number of Covid-related deaths and people in hospital continue to rise and there are now just 0.46 GPs per 1,000 patients in England, down from 0.52 in 2015,” he said.
“To suggest a return to a pre-pandemic way of working is as impractical as it is unworkable for GPs.They need to see patients as safely as possible, often in premises unfit to do so and without anywhere near enough staff.
“They are also trying to see all those on the huge waiting lists who have not been able to get the care they needed in the past 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 with demand. Patients have also faced delays to get appointments due to a shortage of GPs.
A survey of more than 330 GP practices across London in June found more than half said the current demand on them was unmanageable, with 82 per cent warning it was affecting staff wellbeing. Four-fifths of practices said patient satisfaction was being hit.
NHS England wrote to GPs in May this year urging them to return to offering patients face-to-face appointments without needing prior telephone or online triage. GPs were told that remote appointments “should be done alongside a clear offer of appointments in person”.
It marked a reversal of a policy that had been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, when GPs were told to adopt a “total triage” approach and only see patients in person after a remote consultation.