Doctors are being told to promote the use of virtual consultations and discourage face-to-face appointments. New NHS guidance instructs GP’s that anyone wishing to see their doctor, must have a consultation on the phone or online first.
The guidance does state that if a doctor thinks a patient does need a face-to-face appointment, they should receive one. NHS bosses believe that around one third of all patient requests can be dealt with through online messaging.
The advice was first issued in April last year, as a way of limiting the spread of covid-19 infections in GP surgeries. It was renewed last September. The NHS wants online doctor visits to be the new normal.
Guidance issued by NHS England and seen by this newspaper says when a patient calls, they should be encouraged to go online. Doctors are instructed to “avoid directly booking patients who telephone the practice into an appointment” to prevent “disincentivising use of the online system”.
Although practices may decide some “agreed exceptions”, patients should be deterred from finding ways around the system, the national advice suggests.
GPs should “discourage” patients from turning up in the hope of securing an appointment, with such cases given a demonstration of online forms using a smartphone, it says.
Professor Martin Marshall is the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners. He believes that the changes promoted by the guidance will damage the doctor-patient relationship. He said:
“Once we get out of the pandemic and things return to a more normal way of living and working, we don’t want to see general practice become a totally, or even mostly, remote service. A lot of what we do is to build a trusting relationship, and to do that you need to be in the same room so you can pick up the ‘soft signs, such as anxiety. While remote consultations could work well for straightforward conditions, or those where a physical examination was not needed, more complex and sensitive cases were likely to need face-to-face assessment.”