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GPs refute briefing claims that they are 'referring large numbers to A&E'

More than 450 GPs and primary care staff have signed an open letter after an emergency medicine professor suggested in last night's Government briefing that practices have 'referred large numbers of patients to the emergency department'. 

Named as 'Suzanne from Chesterfield', Professor Suzanne Mason, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Sheffield, made the comments in the live televised briefing with the Prime Minister, chief medical officer and chief scientific officer - the final of the daily updates. 

During the questions from members of the public, Professor Mason asked: ‘When will primary care and dental practices be encouraged to work normally again now that the threat level is at three? We are seeing large numbers of patients referred to the emergency department because their GP or dentist are refusing face to face consultations. How soon will they be getting back to normal?’

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, replied: ‘GPs have of course been working throughout this and done an absolutely fantastic job if I may say so to my colleagues.

‘Inevitably, to reduce the risk of transmission – to reduce the risk that people come into contact in waiting rooms and indeed between clinical staff and patients – they have changed the way they’ve worked and many of those changes are actually things that make sense for the longer term, even if it wasn’t for coronavirus.’

The GPs' open letter - which at time of publication has been signed by 452 primary care staff - reads: ‘During the Prime Minister’s daily coronavirus briefing on 23 June, [Professor Suzanne Mason] stated that “large numbers of patients” were being referred to the emergency department in which she works because their GP or dentist had refused to see them face-to-face.

‘As general practitioners, we wish to reassure the public that NHS GP surgeries are open and available to patients who need us, and have been throughout the pandemic. In order to safeguard the public from unnecessary risk, GPs have shifted to online and telephone consulting where safe and appropriate.

‘We hope that Suzanne’s comments do not deter patients from approaching their GP if needed, and respectfully invite Suzanne to spend a day with a local GP so she can see first-hand how hard NHS GPs are working during this pandemic.’

The letter's author, Dr Heather Ryan, a GP in Warwickshire, explained: ‘I found Suzanne's comments very frustrating, as it feeds the public perception that general practice has been closed during the pandemic. In fact, GP surgeries have been open throughout. What has changed is the way in which GPs are working - to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission, GPs have moved to other forms of consulting, such as telephone and video calls.

‘I started the open letter because I wanted to reassure the public that general practice is still very much open for business.  I don’t feel it’s helpful that a consultant colleague talked about general practice in this way on national television.'

One of the signatories, London GP Dr Thomas Round, added: ‘The comments show a total lack of understanding of primary care and the massive changes we have made almost overnight in the face of a pandemic. We have on the whole moved to a full triage system of digital/phone access to keep patients and staff safe.’

The sentiment also won the support of NHS England’s medical director of primary care, Dr Nikki Kanani, while a Facebook post from ‘Dr Rant’ has warranted almost 3,000 likes today on the topic.

Pulse has contacted Professor Mason, who declined to comment. 

Readers' comments (28)

  • Vinci Ho

    It is bound to generate many contentious issues : we , GP, are subjected to both clinical(at work ) and non clinical (outside work) exposures . Once being traced , you are to isolate for 2 weeks if PPE was not worn .
    Perhaps , it is a logical argument to test frontline medical professionals twice a week ?
    Otherwise , this matter of ‘recovery’ is questionable where the workforce is to be challenged constantly by at least , the Trace part of the equation. Undoubtedly , the scheme needs to be implemented more consistently among those tested positive .
    After 4th of July , the risk is more about infection among relatively younger population as the vulnerable ones are still in shielding until august . The R rate could go up rapidly but the death rate might remain low . This is the phenomenon seen in Beijing , California right now .

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  • (Apologies - there was previously a comment on here that wasn't meant for this story)

  • Clearly its a variable experience accessing GP surgeries during the total triage system mostly now in place.
    Anecdotally, I am aware of comments from many local patients who cannot get through on the phone after long periods trying.
    Obviously, this will need to get sorted as the backlog for "routine" medical care build up.
    Not quite world class is it.
    Austerity hurts.

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  • My understanding was that A+E attendance across the country had been at record low levels during the pandemic?

    Not sure what her point is but well answered by Chris whitty as always.

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  • BOTTOM LINE IS----PATIENTS DO NOT LIKE THE WAY GPs ARE HANDLING THEIR PROBLEMS----VIRUS OR NO VIRUS

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  • Vinci Ho

    Ok , let’s revisit this statement from our professorial colleague :
    :
    ‘When will primary care and dental practices be encouraged to work normally again now that the threat level is at three? We are seeing large numbers of patients referred to the emergency department because their GP or dentist are refusing face to face consultations. How soon will they be getting back to normal?’
    What are the logical pitfalls of this statement?
    (1)I presume that this is the majority of what she said during the daily updates as I did not watch the programme on television. The first part of the question is a fair one . In fact , we would like to ask the same question of when will hospital be encouraged to work normally again now that the threat is at three ?
    (2) The principles of a proper debate include making subjective comment based on objective evidence . ‘Large numbers of patients referred to emergency department....’ needs an objective number or percentage, to the least , to support this subjective comment. So is for the rest of the sentence ,’ because their GP or dentist are refusing face to face consultations’ . Furthermore, non-face-to-face consultations are the mainstay for our hospital colleagues up to this point unless I have missed some major changes . I would apologise if I am wrong , Professor .
    (3) ‘How soon will they be getting back to normal ?’ is ,in fact , a melancholic question : what is ‘normal’ now ? The biggest question is how soon will WE be getting back to normal in face of the enemy from nature . I share your frustration and anguish , Professor . Please look after yourself and be safe .

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  • We did consultations equivalent to 7% of our list last week.
    And we haven’t really got up to speed on chronic disease management.
    Highest quintile for deprivation (ie most deprived) though so commissioners don’t give a ...

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  • As we all know GPs are easy canon fodder as always.The real question is when will the hospital services be getting back to normal?

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  • The real question is when will A+E operate TOTAL TRIAGE and re-direct inappropriate attenders to the correct pathway be it pharmacy, WIC, mental health services, social worker etc without letting them through their doors? The fact that A+E gets a handsome tariff for seeing them, rather than rejecting them says it all.

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  • Thank you Jaimie and Ellie for bringing this to everyone’s attention here on Pulse. Please can everyone consider signing the open letter (which seems calm , measured and non -inflammatory ) and spreading the word. Frankly I find it sickening that one of our medical colleagues should use this high profile event to persue her GP bashing agenda when we have been working our socks off since day 1 . Yes we have reduced F2F but we are still willingly seeing and visiting patients when clinically indicated. The admin and organisational challenges have increased significantly and , again , GPs have risen to the challenge. Come on colleagues !! Let’s not accept GP bashing and lets try to educate this ‘professor’ about how GP practices work..... I also agree with comments elsewhere that we must thank all our staff - Nurses , PAs , managers and admin teams , IT support and pharmacists as its not just about GPs....thank you

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  • But don’t forget that The Hospital is the centre of the universe and all other services/providers orbit it like specs of dust. The Hospital is all important.
    Anecdotal reports of GPs sending patients to A&E in higher numbers than The Hospital deems appropriate?
    They must be stopped!
    The Prime Minister must be informed!

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