A Daily Mail campaign for GPs to see patients face to face as the ‘default’ option risks further fuelling abuse and violence against practices, the BMA has warned.
The campaign, launched by the Daily Mail yesterday, demands a ‘guarantee that face-to-face GP appointments are the default and anyone who wants to see their family doctor in person should be able to do so‘.
The newspaper’s five-point ‘manifesto for GPs’ also includes calls for the Government to ‘act to ensure a greater proportion of GP appointments are in person’, including by providing ‘incentives or penalties for local surgeries if necessary‘.
It said that the Government must take ‘urgent action’ to deliver on its election promise of 6,000 more GPs and 50 million more GP appointments per year and that ‘if necessary’ practice-based pharmacists or nurses should ‘receive extra training so they can ease [the] burden on doctors and help with face-to-face cases’.
The newspaper reported that health secretary Sajid Javid backed the campaign, saying: ‘I am committed to ensuring everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, can choose to see their GP face to face and I am grateful to the Daily Mail for launching this campaign.’
Responding to the campaign, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said this and ‘similar “anti-GP” rhetoric in the media’ risk ‘fuelling a climate of spiralling abuse’ and leading to more incidents like the ‘appalling’ Manchester attack.
He added: ‘It is damaging to both doctors and their patients and serves no real purpose other than to give backing to the growing trend of abuse, vitriol and violence that is being directed towards our healthcare workers.
‘GPs are seeing millions of their patients face to face, as well as offering telephone and online appointments, every week. The move to an initial telephone consultation to assess a patient’s needs was, and is, in line with NHS England’s and the Government’s guidance and is still necessary for infection control and to keep patients and healthcare staff as safe as possible.’
Dr Vautrey added that suggestions in the media that face-to-face consultations ‘need to begin again’ are ‘clearly wrong’.
He said: ‘This misinformation is creating a dangerous breeding ground for discontent. Staff being harassed and slandered on social media, being subjected to verbal abuse, intimidation and physical attacks cannot and should not be allowed to happen.
‘Sections of media which insist on peddling these dangerous untruths risk inciting even greater levels of violence and abuse towards healthcare staff, when in fact their effort should be directed towards asking the Government why it is standing by and allowing this country to have a GP service that is under-funded and now, under attack.’
Meanwhile, a petition calling on the Government to instruct GPs to ‘restart’ face-to-face appointments has garnered more than 60,000 signatures.
Another petition, hosted on the Government website, which calls for Parliament to ‘create a legal right for patients to receive timely face-to-face GP appointments’, has been signed by almost 17,000 people.
A Government response given in July said that GP practices ‘have remained open and offering face to face appointments throughout the pandemic’.
It added that GP teams are ‘busy’ and ‘working hard to meet high and rising demand for services as restrictions ease’ and that the Government is ‘incredibly grateful for their tireless and continuing efforts’ to support patients and deliver the Covid vaccination programme.
However, it reiterated that practices are ‘expected to offer both remote and face to face appointments taking into account clinical appropriateness and patient preference for appointment type’.
The petition will be considered for debate in Parliament if it surpasses 100,000 signatures before it closes on 9 December.
It comes as GP leaders last week linked record numbers of GPs seeking mental health counselling to the ‘current vitriol and unfair attack against GPs’ in the media.
And a Pulse survey revealed that nearly three-quarters of GPs are experiencing increased levels of patient abuse compared with before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Doctors’ Association UK wrote to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) this month to report Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson for breaching the Editors’ Code of Practice with ‘inaccurate’ articles in which she suggested GPs are ‘hiding’.
It follows a racially motivated attack on a Lincolnshire GP who ‘nearly lost his sight’ and GP practices targeted with hoax bomb threats and blood-soaked tissues last month.
A shocking survey from the BMA found that more than half of GPs have faced verbal abuse from patients or those accompanying them in the last month and one in five has been threatened.