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Hancock: Patients ‘won’t go back’ from online GP consultations after pandemic

Patients who have got used to online GP and outpatient appointments during the crisis may not want face-to-face appointments when things go back to normal, health secretary Matt Hancock has suggested.

Mr Hancock has stressed that the NHS ‘must not lose’ the digital ‘advances’ that have been made during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But he said patients must continue to present to health services in person when they need to, even in the current circumstances.

Speaking at this evening’s coronavirus briefing, Mr Hancock said he paid ‘tribute to the staff who have worked in different ways to how they would have ever imagined and who have been more flexible and open to change when it was really needed’.

‘So where there have been advances, amongst these huge challenges of this crisis, we must not lose them.’

He added: ‘I think many people who have now used online GP consultations and online outpatient visits won’t ever go back.’

But, citing A&E statistics that showed usage was down more than 50% on the same period last year, Mr Hancock said patients must ‘come forward and seek help as you always would’ if they suffer worrying symptoms such as chest pain or lumps, or if they are a parent who is concerned about their child.

The past week saw 221,000 A&E attendances, in stark contrast to the 477,000 of the same week last year. 

Mr Hancock said: ‘Our message is that the NHS is open – help us to help you.’

His comments come as RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall has estimated that only 7-8% of GP consultations are being carried out face to face at the present time.

He suggested, earlier this month, that up to half of GP consultations may continue to be carried out remotely after the crisis, including via telephone.