Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, has responded to NHS England’s letter to GP practices about access to GP service
He said: “General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic. GPs have been delivering a predominantly remote service in order to comply with official guidance and help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Any implication that they have not been doing their job properly is an insult to GPs and their teams who have worked throughout the pandemic, continued delivering the vast majority of patient care in the NHS, and face an incredibly difficult winter ahead.
“As well as delivering routine care to patients with both COVID and non-COVID conditions, GPs have been working in COVID ‘hot hubs’, identifying those at most risk from the virus and advising them on how to stay safe, and supporting NHS 111 and other areas of the NHS.
“Remote consultations will suit some patients better than others, but generally patients have understood the changes and the rationale for them. Where face to face appointments are necessary, they are being facilitated, and we have called on CCGs to work with practices where this is not possible – for example, if all GPs at a practice are at high risk of COVID-19 – to ensure that they can be.
“Data from the College’s Research and Surveillance Centre shows that routine GP appointments are back to near-normal levels for this time of the year, following a slump around the peak of the pandemic. The proportion of face to face appointments being delivered has also increased since the peak of the pandemic – each and every day last week an estimated third of a million appointments were delivered face to face by general practices across the country.
“The College does not want to see general practice become a totally, or even mostly, remote service post-pandemic. However, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. We need to consider infection control and limit footfall in GP surgeries – all in line with NHS England’s current guidance.
“GPs and our teams are currently preparing for a potential second wave of COVID-19 and to deliver an expanded flu vaccination programme to almost double the number of patients we usually do – this is in addition to delivering care to around a million patients every day, including those with conditions directly or indirectly related to the COVID-19 virus.
“Before the pandemic, the College worked hard to address the intense workforce and workload pressures general practice was facing – and the knock-on effects these were having on patients and the wider NHS. These issues have understandably taken a back seat during the crisis, but they are no less important and the RCGP wants to work with NHS England in a constructive way to address them.”