NHS England has withdrawn its controversial standard operating procedure for GP practices, saying its guidance is now either standard practice, covered elsewhere or redundant.
The standard operating procedure was introduced in March 2020 to provide practices with guidance during the pandemic and has been updated at various stages, most recently in May.
But in a letter to GPs this week, NHS England said that the guidance would be withdrawn from Monday, when remaining legal restrictions were lifted in England.
It said: ‘In March 2020, we introduced a number of SOPs. Over time their content has either become standard practice, is covered in other guidance or will be redundant.
‘Therefore, from 19 July 2021 we will be withdrawing the following SOPs: General practice in the context of coronavirus.’
Similar guidance for community pharmacies and primary care dental and optical services were also scrapped, it added.
In May, NHS England issued a letter followed by an update to the standard operating procedure, saying that practices must offer all patients face-to-face appointments if that is their preference, while receptions must be open for walk-ins.
It caused an ongoing dispute between the BMA and NHS England over face-to-face appointments in GP practices – including a vote of ‘no confidence’ in NHS England’s leadership and a pause on formal meetings between the organisations.
But the letter scrapping the SOP said GP practices should now ‘continue to offer a blended approach of face-to-face and remote appointments, with digital triage where possible’.
The letter also said NHS England will ‘review’ the requirement for practices to make up to one slot per 500 patients per day available for direct booking by 111 to ensure it is ‘not extended beyond the necessary period’.
Last week, an NHS England GP bulletin announced that the requirement had been extended until 30 September along with other ‘temporary changes to the GP contract’ under the pandemic regulations:
- The suspension of the requirement that practices report Friends and Family Test returns to commissioners
- The suspension of the requirement for indivudual patient consent ‘in certain cicrumstances’ in order to ‘encourage’ the use of electronic repeat dispensing (eRD).
Both LMCs and the BMA had advised practices that the standard operating procedure had ‘no contractual force’, but Pulse revealed in May that NHS England was monitoring how many face-to-face appointments practices are offering and asking them to justify ‘low’ levels.