GPs hit back at 'out of touch' Sajid Javid after Health Secretary demands face-to-face appointments return

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has demanded GPs increase their number of face-to-face appointments “as life goes almost back to completely normal” - but has been accused of being “out of touch with reality” by doctors’ leaders.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid addresses the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Mr Javid’s comments in Parliament came after a council meeting in Wakefield separately heard that a local patient was told over the phone that they only have 12 months to live.

But Richard Vautrey, the Leeds-based chairman of the BMA GP committee, said the return to pre-pandemic appointment standards is “as impractical as it is unworkable” for GPs given current workloads and staffing levels.

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Mr Javid insisted more GPs should be offering face-to-face appointments with patients, adding the Government “intends to do a lot more” to ensure it happens.

He made the comments after Conservative MP Dean Russell raised concerns over some GP surgeries in his Watford constituency “still not opening their doors” to see patients.

Mr Javid replied: “I think everyone can understand why during the height of the pandemic that GPs couldn’t provide access in the normal way.

“But we’re way past that now, life is starting to return almost back to completely normal and as that is happening it should be happening in our GP surgeries too, and more GPs should be offering face-to-face access.

“We intend to do a lot more about it.”

Conservative MP Paul Holmes, who represents Eastleigh, subsequently asked if Mr Javid could “instruct” GPs to hold in-person appointments.

Mr Javid said patients should have a choice, noting that some prefer a virtual appointment.

He added: “The important thing is that for those who want to have a face-to-face appointment it should be made available. The department is looking at what measures can be taken.”

His comments came after Labour councillor Charlie Keith told Wakefield’s health scrutiny committee that a growing number of people were concerned that telephone appointments “were becoming the norm” and were “happening from consultant level to GP level”.

Coun Keith said: “This week I had somebody who was told they had 12 months to live by telephone. It’s unacceptable.”

But Dr Vautrey said that Mr Javid’s comments yesterday “show how far removed the Secretary of State is from the reality of what is happening in GP practices”.

He added: “They also reveal a lack of agreement even within Government as the Prime Minister says the pandemic is far from over and his Secretary of State is saying that life is starting to return almost to completely normal.

“Life is absolutely not back to normal – the number of Covid related deaths and people in hospital continue to rise and there are now just 0.46 GPs per 1000 patients in England, down from 0.52 in 2015.

"To suggest a return to a pre-pandemic way of working is as impractical as it is unworkable for GPs. They need to see patients as safely as possible, often in premises unfit to do so and without anywhere near enough staff. They are also trying to see all those on the huge waiting lists who have not been able to get the care they needed in the past 18 month – a backlog that didn’t exist before the pandemic struck.

“GPs and their teams need so much more support and resource from this Government to be able to give patients the care they need and that doctors want to give.”

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