Ministers defend GPs in wake of criticism over delay over resumption of face-to-face appointments

Health Ministers have defended GPs in the wake of growing public – and political – criticism about the non-resumption of face-to-face appointments following the Covid pandemic and urged patients worried about any symptoms “to come forward”.

Jo Churchill, one of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s deputies, was speaking in response to fears from backbenchers that a shortage of appointments is compromising the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

“GPs are working really hard, and if patients are worried about any symptoms, they need to come forward,” said Ms Churchill who, herself, has been successfully treated for cancer.

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She was responding to Sedgefield MP Paul Howell who warned that “delayed GP appointments have affected early diagnosis of important medical issues such as cancer”.

Face-to-face appointments were avoided by GPs during the coronavirus pandemic

“Early diagnosis is necessary to provide patients with the best chance of stopping the cancer spreading and of recovering,” he went on.

“Furthermore, the later cancer is caught, the more complicated cases become; they take more time and more resources and, of course, are horribly distressing.”

The exchanges came after the Government and NHS leadership was accused of downplaying the scale and urgency of the crisis facing cancer services as they recover from the impact of the Covid-pandemic.

After receiving consultation responses from more than 30 cancer organisations and professionals, the All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) for Radiotherapy and Health published a series of recommendations, including appointing a minister to lead a radical national recovery plan.

Outlining the recommendations, the group’s chair Tim Farron MP said the “frightening” cancer backlog was a preventable national crisis.

But Ms Churchill told MPs: “General practice has remained open throughout the pandemic, offering face-to-face appointments as well as telephone and online consultations, while playing a leading role in our vaccination programme.

“We are enormously grateful to practices, the GPs and their broader teams for everything that they have done, but to ensure that general practice can continue to provide all necessary and appropriate care during this very busy time, we have made an additional £270m available until September.”

She also said there shiould be a greater role for pharmacies in the wider NHS.

“Pharmacies are delivering lateral flow devices into our communities; 500 of them have stood up to be vaccination sites; and we can now refer from NHS 111 and GPs into community pharmacies for the supply of prescribed medicine and for minor illnesses,” added the Minister.

"We need our pharmacies to show their skill base; they are a highly skilled group that we should all be asking to do more and celebrating.”