The RCGP has issued an updated response to NHS England’s letter requiring practices to offer face-to-face appointments to all who want them, amid criticism from GPs.
Yesterday, the RCGP had declined to dispute an NHS England claim that it had backed the controversial new guidance but today it said it wished to ‘set the record straight’ with a new statement.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said this comes as ‘the strength of feeling amongst GPs since the publication of NHS England’s letter last week has been palpable’.
Distancing himself from its content, Professor Marshall said the letter’s ‘tone was misjudged, and the rigid expectations it sent out that practices should make changes at such short notice showed a lack of understanding of the pressures facing the profession’.
‘This is demoralising at a time when GPs are under more pressure than ever before and are feeling the strain of more than a year on the frontline of the pandemic effort,’ he added.
He also stressed that the RCGP ‘was not invited to comment on the letter before it was issued’ and urged NHS England to ensure GP practices are given ‘flexibility to decide how to best meet their patients’ needs at a local level’.
Earlier this month, the RCGP warned against retaining the ‘total triage’ model of general practice beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, in which it argued that it may ‘exacerbate health inequalities’ – a sentiment NHS England appeared to have seized upon.
But in the updated statement, the college called on NHS England to take the ‘opportunity to address the real concerns GPs have been raising and offer guidance on how to move forward in a safe and practical way’ when it makes the impending update to the standard operating procedure (SOP).
Professor Marshall said: ‘GPs and their teams adapted rapidly to new ways of working at the start of the pandemic, but don’t want call-centre medicine for their patients once the pandemic crisis has passed.
‘However, we are still in a pandemic – there are rising cases of the Covid-19 variant first identified in India – so a sensible and cautious approach to returning to more normal general practice is key.’
GPs had criticised the RCGP, saying it must ‘clarify its position’ or risk being undermined for being ‘complicit’ in NHS England’s guidance – which the profession branded ‘tone deaf’ and ‘badly judged’.