Exclusive NHS England is monitoring how many face-to-face appointments GP practices are offering and asking them to justify ‘low’ levels, Pulse has learned.
Practices in London have been approached by commissioners about data on their appointments, but Pulse understands this has also been happening in other parts of the country.
GPs have been given short deadlines to fill out a survey on their levels of face-to-face appointments, including justifying a ‘low proportion’, which Pulse understands has come to CCGs centrally from NHS England.
NHS England told Pulse that fewer than 150 practices have been approached as part of a scheme to support those delivering low levels of face-to-face appointments.
The survey, seen by Pulse, asks whether the CCG believes ‘that the proportion of face-to-face appointments in this practice is clinically appropriate and that the practice’s patients’ needs are being met’.
It also asks whether the practice has ‘a physical reception area open and staffed, where patients can present, undergo triage and book appointments in person’ and whether ‘patients at the practice [have] raised issues or complaints relating to the availability of face to face appointments’.
The survey says: ‘Are there any data quality issues, specific to this practice, which may result in their recording an incorrect proportion of face to face appointments?’
It adds: ‘Are there any other reasons for the low proportion of face to face appointments at this practice?’
Practices were also asked whether there are ‘any specific plans in place (at a practice, PCN, CCG, ICS or regional level) to increase the proportion of face to face appointments in this practice in the near future’.
GPs were asked to provide information by the next morning, Pulse understands.
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse: ‘We have reached out via CCGs to about 144 general practices which have recorded fewer than a fifth of their total appointments being conducted face to face in the first three months of this year.’
They added that there is no intention to look at the majority of practices in this way.
The BMA said ‘robust’ data on GP appointments is important but stressed that the timing of the demands ‘could not be any worse’.
Dr Farah Jameel, BMA GP Committee executive team member, told Pulse: ‘Practices have continued to see patients face-to-face throughout the pandemic. The proportion of in-person appointments recorded will obviously vary between practices– not least because no two practices are the same and because GPs are the best people to know their patient communities and provide care in the most appropriate way for them.
‘Practices will feel very much like they are once again being reprimanded and asked to “explain themselves” for responding directly to their patients’ needs and providing care in the best way they can, given the immense pressures they are experiencing.’
She added: ‘On the back of last week’s letter that left GPs incandescent with anger, the timing of these demands could not be any worse.’
Last week, an NHS England letter sent to practices said patients must now be offered face-to-face appointments if that is their preference.
It comes as the BMA’s GP Committee has voted to pause all meetings with NHS England until the disagreement around face-to-face appointments in practices is resolved, saying it has ‘no confidence’ in NHS England’s executive directors.
It follows calls among grassroots GPs for the resignation of NHS England’s medical director for primary care amid the furore created by its letter – with a petition to that effect racking up over a thousand signatures.