Pharmacy giant Boots has apologised to GPs after its managing director said that primary care had ‘more or less disappeared’ during the pandemic.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast yesterday morning, Sebastian James thanked his staff for their services during the pandemic at a time when he claimed the rest of primary care had ‘disappeared’.
He said: ‘I think my staff has been incredible and I just want to take a moment to thank all of them for really stepping forward at a time when the rest of primary care had really, more or less, disappeared.
‘I think the Boots team did a really, really good job at managing that.’
However, Mr James was forced to apologise after his comments attracted a backlash on social media.
The BMA said that Mr James’ comments were ‘unfair’ and ‘undermine the work of all primary care workers’.
It said: ‘Since March 2020, GPs in England have delivered over 173 million face-to-face [appointments]. Thanks need to be given to all frontline staff and healthcare workers for their efforts throughout this pandemic.’
The RCGP also responded on Twitter, branding the comments ‘insulting’. It said: ‘GPs, their teams and [primacy care] colleagues have worked incredibly hard under huge pressure throughout the pandemic delivering vital patient care and services alongside 75% of the vaccination programme.
‘Seb James’ comments are unfair and insulting – he should set the record straight.’
And GP leaders took to Twitter to counter the claim, including Cambridgeshire LMC chief executive and GPC contract and regulations deputy policy lead Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, former RCGP chair Professor Dame Clare Gerada and GP survival founder Dr Alan Woodall.
In a statement this afternoon, Mr James said GPs are the ‘backbone of primary care’ and that he was ‘referring to the fact that many locations had no choice but to close during the pandemic’.
He said: ‘I and everyone at Boots have the utmost respect and gratitude for all primary care workers including GPs – they are the backbone of primary care and I did not mean to suggest otherwise.
‘I was referring to the fact that many locations had no choice but to close during the pandemic and in those situations we were happy to step in and help. This was really about thanking our teams and certainly not about diminishing the role of GPs.’
He added: ‘Please forgive me if I chose the wrong words at the moment to describe this.’
It comes in the wake of ongoing controversy over whether GP practices have been ‘open’ to patients.
Meanwhile, the latest GP appointment figures demonstrated the ‘immense pressures’ GP practices are under, with practices in England carrying out 31.5 million recorded patient appointments in April.
A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title The Pharmacist