The health secretary has claimed that GPs need to start offering more face-to-face appointments, warning that he intends ‘to do a lot more about it’.
Sajid Javid was speaking in the House of Commons after MPs complained some GP surgeries were ‘still not opening their doors’ to see patients.
But his comments were immediately rejected by the BMA which said they highlighted ‘how far removed he is from the reality of what is happening in general practice’.
They also refuted Mr Javid’s claims that he was working with the trade union on the issue, adding that their letters ‘had gone unanswered’.
Watford MP Dean Russell (Conservative) told the Commons: ‘Across Watford we are served by some amazing GP surgeries including the Manor View Practice and their team.
‘But I am hearing from constituents that some GP surgeries are still not opening their doors to do face-to-face appointments.’
He asked Mr Javid: ‘Does he agree with me that we should encourage those GP surgeries to start opening up to help with the backlog and help see people face-to-face?’
Mr Javid replied: ‘Yes, I agree. He’s right to raise this.
‘I think everyone can understand why during the height of the pandemic that GPs couldn’t provide access in the normal way.
‘But we’re way past that now, life is starting to return almost back to completely normal and as that is happening it should be happening in our GP surgeries too, and more GPs should be offering face-to-face access.
‘We intend to do a lot more about it.’
Meriden MP Saqib Bhatti MP (Conservative) then asked Mr Javid to give details on the action the Government was taking.
Mr Javid said: ‘It is a very important issue. We are working with the BMA, the NHS and other important organisations on this.
‘There are a number of things that we can do but we are trying to do so by agreement at this point.
‘But he is right to raise this issue and as I said earlier, it is high time GPs started operating in the way that they did before the pandemic and offering face-to-face appointments to everyone who would like one.’
Mr Javid’s comments were met with a furious response from the BMA, which denied it was working with his department to resolve the issue and described his suggestions of a return to pre-pandemic conditions as ‘impractical and unworkable’.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the BMA said: ‘Comments like this show how far removed he is from the reality of what is happening in General Practice as well as highlighting a lack of agreement within Government – the PM says the pandemic is far from over while the Secretary of State claims life is starting to return almost to completely normal.
‘The health secretary also claimed he is working with the BMA – this is simply untrue. Our letters, outlining what we believe is needed to help GPs, have gone unanswered.
‘We would very much welcome the opportunity to have frank discussions with him about the current GP crisis.
‘To suggest a return to a pre-pandemic way of working is as impractical as it is unworkable for GPs.
‘They need to see patients as safely as possible, often in premises unfit to do so and without anywhere near enough staff.’
The row comes after an exclusive Pulse survey found around 80% of GPs felt a return to pre-pandemic levels of face-to-face appointments was not necessary.
The survey of 1,000 GPs also found that half say that a return to the number of face-to-face appointments would not be possible, because patients are now expecting to have quicker access through remote consultations.
The survey also found the majority of GPs – 57% – said the flexibility offered by remote consultations had benefited care overall.
The news comes as the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting (ARM) yesterday voted in favour of a motion which said that NHS England must ‘cease and desist’ negative briefings about GPs.
It also comes as the BMA’s GP Committee this month voted to return to NHS England negotiations following the face-to-face fallout earlier this year.
But the contentious move subsequently saw a number of GPC policy leads resign in protest.
GPC had voted to pause all meetings with NHS England in May until the disagreement around face-to-face appointments in practices had been resolved.