Health secretary Sajid Javid has expressed his backing for remote GP consultations, which he noted ‘a lot of people actually prefer’.
Speaking yesterday at a Conservative Party Conference event, he also said remote consultations are here to stay ‘post-pandemic’.
The comments, made in conversation with Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, come as Mr Javid last month thanked the Daily Mail for launching a campaign calling for face-to-face GP appointments to be the ‘default’ option.
Mr Javid also told MPs last month that it was ‘high time’ GPs started ‘operating in the way that they did before the pandemic’.
But, at yesterday’s event, Mr Javid was asked: ‘The most obvious way to raise productivity in the health services to is to move from in-person meetings with your GP to dealing with them on the phone or via computer, do you intend to have more of that in the future?’
To which he responded: ‘There’s a role for remote consultations when it comes to health care… I know that from speaking to the clinicians, a lot of that will continue, because a lot of people actually prefer it.
He added: ‘When we look ahead, post-pandemic, there will be remote consultations.
‘I think as long as that is something that clinically, is there as the right outcome and it works for people and that’s what they want, I see no problem with that at all.’
Today, in his main speech to the conference, the health secretary also said: ‘The public rightly, and proudly, expect a service that is free at the point of use, but they also expect a service to deliver for them wherever they live in the country.
‘They expect to be able to see their GP in the way that they choose, and to have a relationship with that service that goes beyond picking up the pieces when things go wrong.’
The comments come as the Government has this month introduced delayed incentives for GPs to provide a minimum of five online consultations per 1,000 patients a week, as part of the PCN investment and impact fund (IIF).
And in July last year, then-health secretary Matt Hancock said all GP consultations should be carried out remotely, unless there’s a ‘compelling’ reason not to.
Mr Hancock also proposed that 45% of appointments should remain remote after the Covid-19 pandemic.
GPs have endured a sustained media focus on face-to-face appointments in recent months, with outlets including the Mail and the Telegraph repeatedly accusing practices of being closed or unavailable to patients.
However, according to the latest data, GP practices in England saw five million more patients in August this year compared to the same month last year.
The Daily Mail has also claimed the backing of Prime Minister Boris Johnson for its default face-to-face appointments campaign.
And NHS England announced last week that GPs are to receive funding to support them to deliver pre-pandemic levels of appointments, including face-to-face care.
But deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has admitted that GPs are already seeing the same amount of patients as they were before the pandemic.
In a recent Pulse survey of 1,000 GPs, half said that a return to the number of face-to-face appointments would not be possible, and around 80% said it is not necessary.
The survey also found that the majority of GPs – 57% – said that the flexibility afforded by doing remote consultations has benefited care overall.