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‘High time’ GPs offer more face-to-face appointments, health secretary tells MPs

‘High time’ GPs offer more face-to-face appointments, health secretary tells MPs

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.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Patrufini Duffy 14 September, 2021 6:22 pm

No comment.

Thomas Robinson 15 September, 2021 10:10 am

It would be interesting to know the Health Secretary definition of more. One has to doubt he has any real idea.This is a question, he will run away from. He wishes to sound good, but is way out of his depth. Sir Humphrey will be reining him in as we speak.

This is an opportunity, to nail the Health Secretary, for an absolute, unequivocal judgement, as to who chooses whether a face to face consultation is appropriate. The patient or the GP. if the latter, there is no basis for his intervention, if the former, then the life expectancy of the NHS can be measured in days.

Now would be an appropriate time for the BMA to question, harass and pursue him relentlessly, and not allow him to fudge the issue. Opportunities like this are not common.

Failure to recognise and exploit such opportunities by the BMA unfortunately are all too common

Malcolm Ridgway 15 September, 2021 10:43 am

Surely this should be a joint decision between the clinician and patient (ie not politicians)? Most people get that GPs are very busy at the moment but equally have problems or issues they are worried about. It will take time for patients to understand when they need F2F and when online will meet their needs. Everyone is learning about this new way of working and it will take time to bed in. I cannot see the press settling down just yet nor will politicians defend GPs – they all have their own agendas – which are not about helping patients. The truth will win out – eventually.

Robert James Andrew Mackenzie Koefman 15 September, 2021 11:12 am

Amazing as soon as you give someone a bit of power they become more vocal and start bashing GPs again. No government supports primary care as it should do , the days are numbered and the public will end up getting a third world service at best unless they pay for it like the rest of the world.

Chris Dixon 15 September, 2021 11:13 am

Ooo Is covid over ? Awesome. Strange, I seem to be filing a lot of positive results. I’ll book in a lot more F2F at 9pm after I’ve finished my 150 phone calls and all the secondary care work we are doing because they are only doing phone calls as well.

Excellent, time to celebrate

David Church 15 September, 2021 11:56 am

Why ? does he still want to kill off more of us so our voice of reason gets quieter???
It’s about time someone gave him a really good cough.

Chris GP 15 September, 2021 1:00 pm

Thomas – “It would be interesting to know the Health Secretary definition of more.”

I’m not really bothered as long as more of that means less of other stuff – which it will. I am fairly certain we are all going at full tilt as it is. The notion that seeing patients face to face might increase capacity shows the type of ignorance we have come to expect. The notion that some of us are not helping with the backlog is possibly the most insulting thing I have heard from government since the start of the pandemic and does nothing to encourage me to stay in this utterly crap job for a second longer than I have to.

Slobber Dog 15 September, 2021 2:02 pm

Won’t affect us as we’re already at 80-90% F2F.
I’d like to see secondary care treated the same .

terry sullivan 15 September, 2021 2:41 pm

have not MPs just returned from weeks holiday?

Vinci Ho 15 September, 2021 4:12 pm

(1) Whether we(GP) should provide full access face to face consultations like pre-Covid era has triggered a good debate . However , it is not healthy to see two polarities in our GP realm splitting ourselves into two camps .
(2) It was not long ago when Robocop and the Babylonians attacked this GP land. The former had paid a price for a private affair inside his office but the latter will be the protagonists rubber-stamped by the government to develop AI-general practice. Life is so just unpredictable, isn’t it?😳😈
But they both are probably laughing at GPs supporting remote access right now 😈
(3) Obviously, the media , particularly several high-profile newspapers endeavoured to wipe the floor with GPs . There are certainly some patients who dislike the ‘new normal’ in their practices . 100% face to face or total remote access? Like always , the realistic approach is a new hybrid mixing both , appropriate to the circumstances. The answer is always somewhere between the two extremes 😎
Why do I care what these yellow journalists wrote everyday driven by sensationalism?😈
(4) Having said that , it does not deter one from being introspective. Insisting one way or the other , there is a caveat of creating our own hypocrisy of criticising the old model of ‘one size fits all’ .
Ultimately, it is not about us having job satisfaction through FTF nor about new technologies making our lives more convenient .
It is about appropriate to the circumstances, each patient’s circumstances.
The flexibility of a hybrid model is currently essential taking into account of far more workloads and demands dumped to GPs and PCNs , while the number of FTE GPs is dwindling . Oh yes , the sensationalists will say , ‘cut the fat salaries of these bloody GPs!’ . Populism is such a fashionable behaviour right now , isn’t it ?😈
The true feelings of our GP colleagues continuing to leave through the exit door have never been properly addressed by the government .
(5) On the other hand , it is alarming about the comments from a coroner about a few cases of deaths ‘attributed’ to lack of FTF consultation. I had written my comments on this as well .
Personally , I support a hybrid model and consider this as an ‘evolution’ shaping our new normal .
Older GP ,like me ,perhaps prefer more FTF and younger ones consulting online ?Bottom line is nevertheless patient safety and continuity. And they both can be achieved through a hybrid model . In fact , I would argue the model will be more secure, contemporary and sustainable.
And as far as logistics is concerned , may be we should have an open debate to work out a list of symptoms/presentations more appropriate to have FTF , subjected to clinical discretion in individual cases ?🤨🧐😎

Vinci Ho 15 September, 2021 4:15 pm

Oh , by the way , it should be Roboco*k instead of Robocop 😈

David Banner 15 September, 2021 5:42 pm

2010s- Babylon introduces virtual GP consultations….”Bravo Babylon! Bold, innovative, popular, forward thinking….this is the future of Primary Care!”

2020s- GPs reluctantly move to virtual consultations in a pandemic….”Boo!! Bone idle, lazy, feckless GPs abandoning their poor patients, fobbing them off with phone calls instead of actually seeing them F2F, they’re a disgrace!”

Mark Williams 16 September, 2021 2:20 pm

I’m going to agree with David Banner – this is exactly what I was thinking as I read it. Perhaps with the demise of wassisname the whole concept of using the internet or telephones has been dumped by the government, who never quite seem to be able to organise a computerised system to do anything, and there will be town criers back on the street and the council counting your windows to tax them… “Time those GPs went back to proper paper records”, we’ll be hearing next.

Anthony Gould 20 September, 2021 10:51 am

The health secretary seems to miss the fundamental fact that demand has been encouraged and supplies if GPs are falling
Consultations take longer as medical cases are more complex
Telephone consultations do not take less time so not an easier option
Please address the fundamentals Mr Health Secretary

Decorum Est 20 September, 2021 2:46 pm

@ Thomas Robinson
‘This is an opportunity, to nail the Health Secretary, for an absolute, unequivocal judgement, as to who chooses whether a face to face consultation is appropriate. The patient or the GP. If the latter, there is no basis for his intervention, if the former, then the life expectancy of the NHS can be measured in days.’

Potentially a great move but:
1. BMA reluctance as it places attaining gongs in jeopardy!
2. Whitehall mandarins are experienced at wiggling out of responsibilities
3, Health Secretary just ignores question (as is usual).

john mackay 20 September, 2021 6:27 pm

The BMA are hopeless. They need to call out the politicians and NHSE. Instead of constant bluster they need to be on the front foot. The Health secretary said only last year in Parliament that 50% F2F/Telephone ratio was “just about right”, could they make their minds up what they want? Also currently NHSE are running a pilot where they have outsourced 50k telephone appts to a private foreign company to provide, what is the health secretary doing about that? Meanwhile NHSE continue to demand an increase in on-line consultations in next years DES’s, is he going to stop that? And by the way, primary care has just delivered around 80 million vaccines that have “saved the country” does he want us to stop doing that and let perhaps secondary care do it? (Why do the BMA never ever mention this, 80 million primary care appts in addition to everything else!)

This is clearly an orchestrated and concerted attack on a group of professionals by their employers, NHSE and the Government, who over the last decade have deliberately massively disinvested in primary care and are now preparing the population for the need for privatisation to deal with this “crisis” of their own making.

It’s time the BMA started to tell people what’s really happening, seek support from others who want to protect the NHS and put the blame were it belongs.

Fat chance of that happening. As others have commented, perfect opportunity to earn some gongs.