RCGP Chair Warns That GP Shortage Will Limit Face-to-face Consultations

Peter Russell

September 21, 2021

Delivering quality primary care is proving "increasingly difficult" for GPs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the Royal College of GPs has told MPs.

Prof Martin Marshall, the college chair, told the Health and Social Care Committee that some patients preferred appointments over the phone or via video, while others wanted to be seen face-to-face, but could not be due to COVID.

He was giving evidence into an inquiry into how the health service can clear the backlog of cases in general practice, mental health, and long COVID services.

He told MPs that about 80% of general practice appointments were conducted face-to-face prior to the pandemic, dropping to 10% in the first wave, and was now settled at around 56%.

GPs 'Leaving the Health Service'

"The main problem is the plug is out of the bath," Prof Marshall warned. "More people are leaving the service, either by working part-time or by retiring early, and that is as a consequence of the fact that general practice is a highly pressurised job, and it's impacting on clinicians' mental health."

Asked if patients had a right to see a GP in person, Prof Marshall said: "There’s no point in having a right if it’s undeliverable, and it is essentially undeliverable at the moment, because of the workload pressures."

He said GP workload had gone up over the pandemic "and indeed over the last decade".

He added: "The second thing is, really importantly, the pandemic isn't over. We’d like to think it is – it isn’t over. It might be over for pubs and nightclubs; it’s not over for health services."

Prof Marshall told the Committee that "the idea of having somebody who is fit and healthy but shedding the virus sitting next to someone who's vulnerable in a waiting room is just not something that's acceptable".

He said that both clinicians and patients would take time to become accustomed to remote consultations but that he suspected patients "will get used to it", adding "I don't think we're going to go back to 80% of consultations in general practice being face-to-face."

Abuse Against Primary Care Staff

Extensive media coverage recently has criticised GPs for adopting remote consultations as a standard for care.

Earlier this week, the British Medical Association (BMA) urged the Government to address a "terrible trend" of abuse, harassment, and physical attacks on GPs and other staff working in primary care.

The warnings came in the wake of an incident at a GP practice in Manchester on September 17 during which four members of staff were injured following a confrontation with a member of the public.

A survey of GPs and hospital doctors carried out by the BMA in July found that 71% of GPs reported that their experience of abusive behaviour had increased compared with a year ago.

BMA GPs Committee chair Richard Vautrey said: "GPs and practice staff should never have to fear going to work, and patients should also feel confident that their surgery is a place of safety."

The BMA said ministers needed to increase resources to recruit more GPs.

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