NHS England has said that GP practices can ask walk-in patients to ‘wait outside’ if reception space is ‘constrained’.
It followed new NHS England guidance last month that said GP patients must now be offered face-to-face appointments if that is their preference and receptions must be open for walk-ins.
In an update to its ‘access to general practice communications toolkit’ on Friday, NHS England acknowledged that practices are ‘working differently’ to ‘keep people safe’.
It added: ‘Patients should also have the option of coming to the practice in person while adhering to social distancing and IPC guidance.
‘Receptions will not yet feel like they did pre-pandemic – for example where space is very constrained, patients may be asked to wait outside.’
However, the toolkit reiterated that it is a priority to be ‘clear that practices are open and that face-to-face appointments remain available to patients’.
NHS England added: ‘General practice is here for you, but how you contact your GP surgery might be different at the moment. Face-to-face appointments are available to patients where there is a clinical need.
‘If you have a strong preference that your consultation is carried out face-to-face then please talk to your practice. You will be asked to first discuss your conditions over the phone or online with a member of the healthcare team to assess what would be most appropriate for you and which practice member would best provide it.’
The update also added the word ‘need’ to its template answerphone message, which tells patients to wear a face covering ‘if you need to come into the surgery’.
GPs have warned that many Covid-symptomatic patients are now attending face-to-face appointments having only had a negative rapid lateral flow test (LFT), putting GPs and staff at risk.