Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that GP consultations should take place remotely “unless there is a compelling clinical reason not to do so”.
He made the assertion in a speech to the Royal College of Physicians, in which he highlighted the increased use of technology as a central element of future healthcare.
Hancock said that, if they are able, patients should get in touch with their GP via the web or calling in advance.
This comes from the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic in which the use of telephone and online consultations has become the norm for many GP practices.
He said that in the four weeks up to 12 April this year, 71% of routine GP consultations were took place remotely, compared with just 25% in the same period a year before.
“The feedback from this transformation has been hugely positive,” he said. “And especially valued by doctors in rural areas, who say how it could save long travel times for doctors and patients.”
Hancock’s call came on the day the Royal College of GPs published the results of a survey on how GP care has been accessed in the later stages of the pandemic. It said that in the eight weeks to 19 July 67% of appointments were by telephone; but it also issued a note of caution.
“Remote consultations, whether by telephone or video, won’t be suitable or preferable for everyone, and that certainly isn’t what the college is suggesting,” it said. “We’ve already seen face to face appointments increasing, with a 40% increase over the last eight weeks according to figures from our Research Surveillance Centre, while demand for telephone consultations has only risen 4%.
“Once more normal service resumes in general practice – and we await official guidance on this – patients who want face to face appointments will be able to have them. We want patients to be able to access GP services in the way that is best for them and best meets their health needs.”
Iteration and flexibility
Commenting on the broader outlook for technology in the NHS, Hancock said: “Now, of course sometimes developing new technology is hard, and you have to have an attitude of iteration and of flexibility. But none of that makes it any less valuable.
“So to promote collaboration and change, we need more transparency, better use of data, more interoperability, and the enthusiastic adoption of technological innovation that can improve care.”
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