The long-standing row over the shift towards remote consulting in GP practices has now ‘settled down’, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall has said.
Professor Marshall added that the current 60/40 split between remote and face-to-face consultations is ‘probably about where we’ll end up’.
Speaking at Pulse’s flagship conference in London yesterday, he said he is ‘really pleased’ that the ‘upset’ around the pandemic-triggered shift has ‘settled down’.
He said: ‘Two years after there was so much upset about the shift towards remote consulting from some people – from some branches of the media in particular – I’m really pleased that we’re in a place that many of us predicted which is [that] it’s kind of settled down.’
He added both clinicians and patients have ‘got used to using technology more for consulting’.
They are ‘better at making judgements about when a face-to-face consultation is essential – and often it is – and when it isn’t’, he said.
And he added that the proportions of face-to-face and remote consultations across the overall primary care team – which is currently around 60% in-person and 40% remote – has also stabilised.
He said: ‘I think the proportion for GPs is rather lower than for other members of the clinical team but I think that is probably where we’ll end up – that’s a kind of equilibrium and it’s good that we’ve got there.’
Professor Marshall told GPs they should not be ‘too hard’ on themselves in terms of the challenges they experienced during the pandemic with the use of technology.
He said: ‘When I talk to friends and colleagues who are in very progressive practices that introduced remote consulting five years before the pandemic hit, almost invariably they say it took them two or three years before their patients and clinicians got used to it.
‘We introduced it in two or three weeks, so it’s hardly surprising that it was a tough process.’
During the Covid pandemic, NHS England had instructed GP practices to adopt ‘total triage’ in order to stop the disease from spreading among vulnerable patients in their waiting rooms.
However, despite this instruction, GPs suffered a backlash from the media, Government and NHS England for reducing face-to-face contacts during the pandemic and over accusations that general practice was closed.
The latest British Social Attitudes Survey found that patient satisfaction with GPs fell to its lowest-ever level, with perceived difficulties getting an appointment featuring as a key issue.
But Pulse this week revealed that the average waiting time for a non-urgent, face-to-face appointment is 10 days – quicker than before the Covid pandemic.
Meanwhile, Professor Marshall’s keynote address also warned GPs that there is a ‘real threat’ that general practice will face the same fate as dentistry in the UK – where a growing number of practitioners have gone private.