The latest NHS figures show 57.7 per cent of the 23.7m GP appointments in England were face-to-face in August - the first full month after restrictions ended - and in Yorkshire and the North East that figure stood at 62 per cent.
In the same month in 2019, England’s GPs conducted almost 80 per cent of appointments in person, but Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners Committee, said patients should not expect an immediate return to pre-pandemic levels.
Dr Vautrey, who is a GP in Leeds, said: “GPs are doing their best to see patients in the best way possible. That includes offering timely telephone appointments and face-to-face appointments when it’s clinically necessary to do so.
“Real challenges remain. There are social distancing requirements and infection control requirements, but many surgeries have limited space which is often poorly ventilated.
“Before the pandemic everyone can remember sitting in very crowded GP waiting rooms, waiting for an appointment. But what we don’t want to happen is seeing patients walk in with one problem and leave with another, namely an infection. That’s why we’re continuing to be cautious and following the government’s guidelines.
“Practices want to be able to offer as many face to face appointments as they’re able to.”
He added: “Many patients are actually finding the benefits of a telephone consultation which is offered on the same day, within hours of them contracting the practice.”
The data shows the proportion of telephone consultations rose from 14 per cent in August 2019 to 38 per cent last month.
The highest proportion of telephone appointments was 47.8 per cent in April last year – the month after the first lockdown began.
In January, just 52.9 per cent of GP appointments in England were face to face, but that figure has risen month-on-month during 2021.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the figures show it is a “misconception” that GPs and their teams are not seeing patients face-to-face.
He added: “Huge numbers of GP appointments are being made every day, almost half on the same day they are booked.
“This is against a backdrop of intense workload and workforce pressures in general practice.”
It comes after Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament the Government would be urging GPs to offer more face-to-face appointments as “life is starting to return almost back to completely normal”.
Dr Vautrey recently met with Mr Javid and asked him to recognise the “unsustainable workload pressures” GPs face, invest heavily in primary care and crackdown on anti-GP rhetoric and abuse of NHS staff.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Every GP practice must provide face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointments as part of making primary care as accessible as possible for patients – the latest figures show that around 24m appointments were delivered in August alone, above pre-pandemic levels, with more than half delivered in person.
“Record numbers of people are now training to become GPs, with up to 4,000 new starters this year and the NHS invested £270m to expand general practice capacity during the pandemic on top of rising investment over the last five years."
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