Exclusive GP practices must give face-to-face appointments to patients who request them unless they are deemed to be an infection risk, Pulse has learned.
Last night, new NHS England guidance issued to GPs said practices must offer patients face-to-face appointments if that is their preference.
A letter to practices said they must ‘respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary, for example the presence of Covid symptoms.’
However, it added that practices – which must also open their reception areas to walk-in patients – should continue to triage such patients ‘as they would be via phone or via an online consultation system’.
The official letter was unclear whether patients should be given in-person appointments if they request one, even if the practice does not believe an appointment is clinically necessary following triage.
But an NHS England spokesperson confirmed to Pulse that if a patient is not deemed to be a clinical infection risk, they should be given a face-to-face appointment if they request it.
GP leaders said the letter had ‘no contractual force’ and should be regarded as guidance only by practices.
In a letter to local practices, seen by Pulse, Surrey and Sussex LMCs chief executive Dr Julius Parker said: ‘I confirm this letter was not discussed with the BMA GP Committee and has no contractual force, it is guidance, and in the LMC’s view poorly-thought-through guidance at that.’
‘You are not obliged to offer patients a face-to-face appointment on request’, he added.
Pulse has asked for clarification on the reasons behind the change in policy, which has been in place since the start of the pandemic.
It comes amid ongoing pressure from the media around claims that GP practices are closed – most recently a Mail on Sunday campaign to get practices to see patients face-to-face ‘again’.
But NHS England this month signalled it was working on plans to help manage growing GP workload in a way that will also ‘make sense to patients’.
GPs responding to NHS England’s new guidance branded it ‘tone deaf’ and ‘badly judged’.