Let me begin by saying that I am extremely grateful to the NHS staff who have worked, and continue to work, so tirelessly to treat and support patients: their work has saved countless lives. General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic, and I would encourage everyone to access medical services by phone, online or in person if they need to. The way in which people can access general practice services during COVID-19 did have to change.
It is encouraging to see that GP appointment levels are now close to pre-pandemic level, with an estimated 23.5 million appointments booked in England in May 2021. Of these, 13 million were face to face, which is 55.3 per cent of all appointments. However, I know that this has not been the experience of many, which is why I warmly welcome new NHS England guidance that makes it clear that GP practices must ensure they are offering face to face appointments.
Standard Operating Procedures for GP practices have been updated to set out that, while the expanded use of video, online and telephone consultations can be maintained, this should be done alongside a clear offer of appointments in person.
I particularly welcome that the guidance explicitly says that patients’ input into the choice of consultation method should be sought and practices should respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary, for example COVID-19 symptoms.
All practice receptions should now be open to patients. It is welcome that, to further improve access for patients, the NHS is providing tailored support to over 900 practices, to manage demand, triage and signpost people to the services they need.
Now that restrictions have eased across England, it is right that services like GPs adapt accordingly and work to facilitate more face-to-face care.