Rise in virtual GP appointments as NHS struggles to cope with backlog

The GPs who see only HALF of their patients in person: Shock rise in virtual appointments as NHS struggles to cope with backlog caused by Covid pandemic

  • In quarter of districts in England, figures show less than half see a GP in person
  • Before crisis, 80 per cent of GP consultations in England took place face to face
  • Even in the best performing areas, just 71 per cent of patients are seen in person
  • Data also show rate varies dramatically depending on where you live in England

Less than half of patients see their GP face-to-face in parts of the country, shocking figures reveal.

As the NHS struggles to cope with the backlog caused by the pandemic, in some areas one in ten people are having to wait three weeks for any GP appointment – face-to-face or virtual.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, 80 per cent of consultations with a family doctor in England took place in person.

But data from the House of Commons Library shows that no part of the country now reaches that level.

Shocking new figures have revealed in some parts of the country less than half of patients are seeing the GP face to face when they make appointments as the NHS deals with Covid backlog

‘My husband died after being denied face to face GP appointment’ 

By Alex Ward for the Daily Mail

Taxi driver Peter King and his wife Lisa

The wife of a retired taxi driver who died after he was denied a face-to-face GP appointment says he would still be alive if doctors had seen him.

In July last year Peter King, 62, from Brentwood, Essex, complained of pain in his stomach.

His wife Lisa, 55, emailed their GP asking for a face-to-face appointment because she was worried it was cancer.

After a telephone appointment, Mr King’s GP said he had acid reflux and prescribed medication, telling him to call back in a week if it had not improved.

Mr King was taken to hospital six days later and doctors found a gallstone in his bile duct.

He was discharged after doctors removed the gallstone, but had developed a severe infection and required regular check-ups.

The delay in treatment and going in to hospital saw Mr King’s iron levels rise and damage his heart. He had a heart attack four weeks after leaving hospital and died in October.

Mrs King said: ‘You can’t diagnose something like that over the phone. When you can’t show the doctor where the pain is, it’s not helpful.

‘He passed away and it was all a result of not seeing his GP.

‘He is collateral damage just like all the people waiting for treatment.’

In a quarter of districts, less than half of patients are being granted face-to-face appointments, with the rest forced to consult their GP via telephone or video calls. 

Even in the best-performing areas, just 71 per cent of patients are being seen face-to-face.

The Commons library figures, which looked at the percentage of face-to-face appointments and waiting times from the start of January to the middle of last month, also show there is a huge postcode lottery in terms of waiting times.

Doctors covered by the Liverpool clinical commissioning group (CCG) see 70 per cent of their patients on the same or next day; in Dorset, the figure is just 48 per cent.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said hundreds of thousands of older people needed face-to-face appointments.

She said: ‘GP practices are the bedrock of the NHS but at the moment they seem to be buckling at the knees, and this is very worrying for the public, older people especially.

‘If you aren’t online and are hard of hearing so struggle with the phone, you really do need a face-to-face appointment, and that’s the position hundreds of thousands of older people are in.

But the enormous variation in their availability across the country is a real concern and it must mean some older people are inappropriately missing out.’

The data, requested by the Liberal Democrats, shows that in 25 of the 106 local health trusts across the country, face-to-face appointments take place in less than 50 per cent of cases.

The worst area is South Sefton CCG in Merseyside, where the figure is just 44.8 per cent, with the rest being video or telephone calls, and some home visits.

The next worst is Cheshire (46.6 per cent), and then Liverpool and Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire, both on 46.8 per cent.

At the other end of the scale is Castle Point and Rochford in Essex, where 71.7 per cent of appointments were face-to-face.

The data also shows that in Sheffield, 9 per cent of people must wait three weeks or more to see their GP, compared to 52 per cent who see them the same or the next day.

Lib Dem health spokesman Baroness Brinton said: ‘Surgeries and residents are being let down by a Government that is failing to grapple with rising waiting times and a backlog of people waiting for treatment.’

The Department of Health and Social Care said that alongside remote consultations, tele-medicine and online access provided flexibility and convenience for patients.

A spokesman added: ‘We have invested £270 million to expand GP capacity so they can cope with the increased demands and recovery pressures, on top of the £1.5 billion for extra staff committed for general practices until 2023/24.

‘Tackling the backlog is a key priority, and we would encourage anyone who needs care or has a health concern to come forward for help if they need it.’ 

GPs can be paid up to £100 for virtual appointments 

By Victoria Allen Science Correspondent for the Daily Mail

GPs can earn £100 an hour without leaving home by carrying out remote consultations with patients.

It is the same rate being offered for in-person consultations, with ‘flexible’ shifts available for doctors during evenings and weekends.

The opportunity for GPs, advertised by Brighton-based out-of-hours care provider Improving Access Services, follows increasing concerns from some patients, particularly elderly ones, about the shift away from in-person appointments. It follows a rise in wages which saw the average GP in England earn £100,700 in 2019-20.

Dennis Reed, director of over-60s campaign group Silver Voices, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The money involved is quite eye-watering.

GPs can earn £100 an hour without leaving home by carrying out remote consultations

‘Working from home might make for a less stressful lifestyle for the doctor, but this means fewer GPs in a surgery available for patients who need to see a doctor face-to-face.’

A spokesman for the BMA doctors’ union said: ‘To deal with the growing demand from a rising number of patients with increasingly complex conditions – which long pre-dates the pandemic – and to offer appointments outside of traditional working hours to people who find it difficult to attend during weekdays, all areas in England have provided extended-hours services since 2018.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Every GP practice must provide face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointments, and continuing to offer all of these methods of consultation is part of making primary care as accessible as possible.’

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