GP practice staff are being ‘abused’ by patients amid incorrect media reports about a lack of access to face-to-face appointments, the BMA has said.
Writing to NHS England, the BMA’s GP Committee has demanded that it ‘corrects’ the stories which featured in the news on Monday of this week.
They said this comes as the BMA is ‘hearing large number of reports from practices receiving complaints and many staff members being verbally abused by the public’.
GP leaders in East London have also written to NHS England, warning that their actions have led to GPs being put under pressure by patients who want ‘clinically unnecessary’ face-to-face consultations.
NHS England wrote to all GP practices on Monday to ‘remind’ them patients must be offered face-to-face appointments when they need them, with practices otherwise risking being in breach of contract.
Ahead of the letter, NHS England also sent a press release to the media resulting in widespread coverage including making the Telegraph’s front page.
GPs reacted with anger to the communication, which they said was ‘insulting’ in the face of the efforts of general practice during the pandemic, prompting an apology from the NHS England primary care medical director for ‘hurt’ caused.
Addressing NHS England chair Sir Simon Stevens today, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said he wanted to ‘raise serious concerns and insist on an apology for the unacceptable media briefing’.
He said GPs and their teams ‘have gone above and beyond to support patients throughout the pandemic’ and continue to do so despite the ‘tragic loss’ of some colleagues who ‘contracted Covid-19 following face-to-face consultations’.
Adding: ‘Therefore, for GPs to see and read reports in the media that appropriate access to general practice is a widespread problem, and that GPs are responsible for this is yet another major hammer blow to the morale of an already overworked and underappreciated group of dedicated healthcare workers.
‘Implying within the press release, that GPs are not providing patients with the appointments they need and “reminding” them that they face “enforcement action” if they do not has presented NHSE/I as antagonistic and completely out of touch with the profession.’
Dr Vautrey also said it ‘seems to many GPs that NHSE/I has, by using this tactic, intentionally sought to create negative media coverage of primary care services’.
Dr Vautrey said GP staff facing abuse as a result of the reports ‘is clearly unacceptable, and NHSE/I must correct these inaccurate and damaging stories immediately’.
He went on to bid NHS England to ‘learn from this significant event’, adding: ‘As we face probably the most challenging autumn and winter that any of us will have experienced before, we should all be doing all we possibly can to support and care for GPs and other frontline workers.
‘Instead of attacking GPs and their teams NHSE/I must not only apologise to the profession and correct damage that has been done but also demonstrate that you have taken the necessary action to ensure incidents such as this never happen again.’
Meanwhile, NHS Tower Hamlets CCG chair Sir Sam Everington and Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee have told Sir Simon that NHS England’s actions did not just cause ‘upset’ but also ‘a significant clinical problem’.
Their letter said: ‘As a result of your letter, GPs are all reporting patients putting pressure on primary care for face-to-face consultation when not clinically needed’.
It added that this comes ‘at a time when Covid spread is accelerating and we are facing the looming pressures of winter and flu’.
The GPs pointed out that NHS England ‘clearly directed GPs in April to provide online, telephone and video consultations and avoid face-to-face appointments unless absolutely necessary’ with health secretary Matt Hancock having ‘supported’ NHS England by saying ‘that GP appointments should be remote by default’ in July.
Their letter said: ‘GPs like hospital doctors have worked flat out providing millions of appointments, including face to face, throughout the pandemic.
‘They’ve responsibly followed instructions to prevent the spread of a deadly virus by limiting unnecessary contact between vulnerable patients and those who may be infectious mixing in the confined space of a waiting room. There has been virtually no spread of Covid in primary care settings as a result.’
The GPs concluded by telling Sir Simon that ‘to single out primary care with this sort of message has been undermining of all the amazing hard work of NHS staff’, with this coming ‘at a time of rising incidence of Covid and the need to ask our overstretched workforce for yet more’.
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse: ‘Patients at some practices have reported difficulties in getting an in-person appointment, which is why we have reminded primary care staff of the need to offer appointments safely, in the way patients need them, when they need them.
‘We know many patients welcome the convenience of remote consultations, which is why it’s entirely right that more appointments are now available by phone and online, and is completely consistent with also saying that there still needs to be the option of face to face appointments.’