GPs have the ‘contractual freedom’ to decide how best to deliver appointments despite NHS England orders, the BMA has said.
NHS England last week issued a letter to practices saying that GP patients must now be offered face-to-face appointments if that is their preference.
It later confirmed to Pulse that practices must give face-to-face appointments to patients who request them unless they are deemed to be an infection risk.
But in a letter to GPs on Friday, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said practices have ‘contractual freedom’ to deliver appointments based on their individual circumstances, including ‘capacity and workload pressures’.
The letter said: ‘It is for practices to determine how best to manage and deliver their services and the best arrangements for appointments, based on their expert knowledge of their local community.
‘Practices have the contractual freedom to do this taking into account their capacity and workload pressures, and by doing so delivering a safe service to their patients.’
It added that practices ‘need help and support not condemnation and criticism’, branding NHS England’s own letter as a ‘knee-jerk’ response to media headlines alleging that practices have been closed throughout the pandemic.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘We don’t just need short term fixes, or more letters and guidance telling us what to do, but a return to the freedom to deliver services in the way that best meets the needs of our patients, as well as long-term commitment to investment and development of general practice.
‘That is what we will keep pushing for and what we expect Government and NHS England to deliver.’
Last week, LMCs said the letter had ‘no contractual force’ and should be regarded as guidance only by practices.
GPs responding to NHS England’s new guidance on Friday branded it ‘tone deaf’ and ‘badly judged’.