Exclusive GP practices are still under too much pandemic pressure to return to business as usual, a Pulse survey has revealed.
NHS England last week issued a letter to practices saying that GP patients must now be offered face-to-face appointments if that is their preference.
It later confirmed to Pulse that practices must give face-to-face appointments to patients who request them unless they are deemed to be an infection risk.
But a UK-wide Pulse survey of 833 GPs conducted days before NHS England issued its guidance found:
- two-thirds (67%) of GPs were concerned about their practice returning to ‘business as usual’ – i.e. a service comparable to pre-pandemic, including 33% who said they were ‘very concerned’
- almost four in ten (37%) said they don’t expect their practice’s physical waiting room to ever return to full capacity;
- 55% said they did not expect in-person appointments to go back to being the default ever or for the foreseeable future;
- a third (34%) did not expect their practice to go back to open doors for walk-in patients in the forseeable future or ever- although a quarter (25%) said this was ‘already back’ to normal.
Wakefield GP partner Dr Phillip Earnshaw told Pulse returning to ‘business as usual’ was his ‘biggest worry’.
He said: ‘[I’m] not sure we can deliver [the] service that we used to. Things [are] taking longer and staff [are] emotionally burned out.’
GPs responding to the survey said a variety of factors had been an important part of the decision around whether to restore some services to pre-pandemic models.
Seven in ten (70%) cited Covid infection levels being ‘low enough’ as ‘very important’, while many said GP preference (63%), care being stalled or adapted for as long as clinically appropriate (58%) and patient expectations for services to be in place as society opens up (50%) were ‘important’ or ‘very important’.
The survey also revealed that:
- home visits were already back to ‘business as usual’ for 54% of GPs;
- non-urgent screenings such as health checks and medication reviews were already back for 51%;
- and in-person enhanced services were already back for 35%.
It comes amid ongoing pressure from the media around claims that GP practices are closed – most recently a Mail on Sunday campaign to get practices to see patients face-to-face ‘again’.
GPs responding to NHS England’s new guidance on Friday – which said that practices ‘must all ensure they are offering face-to-face appointments’ – branded it ‘tone deaf’ and ‘badly judged’.