The increase in the number of remote GP consultations during the Covid-19 pandemic has not appeared to increase A&E attendances, according to the CQC.
The regulatory body discussed concerns about access to GP services during its September meeting, including the suggestion that the increase in remote consultations and a perceived lack of face-to-face appointments were potentially leading to ‘increased attendance at A&E’.
However, chief inspector Rosie Benneyworth has confirmed that – having looked into this – the organisation has ‘not seen evidence’ to suggest a link between the two.
Despite this, she noted ‘anecdotal concern’ about people attending A&E departments if they ‘feel their needs are not being met elsewhere’.
GPs have faced media criticism in the past few months for the perception that they have are failing to provide face-to-face appointments, with some believing that patients attend A&E as a result.
Minutes from the September CQC board meeting said: ‘Concerns about access to GP services were… discussed, including the suggestion that digital appointments were not meeting the needs of some patients and how this could potentially lead to increased attendance at A&E. Work to quantify the extent of the problem and to monitor it was underway.’
But Dr Benneyworth told Pulse this week: ‘While there may be some anecdotal concern about people attending Emergency Department (ED) if they feel their needs are not being met elsewhere, we have not seen evidence to suggest a link between digital appointments and ED attendance. The latest figures also show there has not been a sharp rise in online/video appointments (according to NHS Digital they are not currently at pre-Covid-19 levels).
‘As ever, we want to make sure that everyone has access to high quality primary care and we will continue to look at access as part of our monitoring. GPs are working tirelessly and providing hundreds of thousands of face-to-face appointments a day, alongside a mix of telephone and video consultations.’
The CQC has previously highlighted the need for face-to-face and remote consultations to take place within general practice.
Its State of Care report this year referenced Healthwatch’s ‘The Doctor Will Zoom You Now’, stating: ‘Key to a successful shift to remote consultations will be understanding which approach is the right one based on individual need and circumstance. A blended offer, including text, phone, video, email and in person would provide the best solution’.
Responding to media criticism last month, the RCGP drew on its data to stress that nearly half (45%) of consultations within general practice are now being conducted face to face – a figure that health secretary Matt Hancock would like to see maintained.