Norfolk patients’ group welcomes choice of face-to-face GP consultations

GP consultation

All GP practices have been told they must offer patients the choice of face-to-face appointments. - Credit: PA

All GP practices must offer face-to-face appointments and an in-person reception desk, NHS England has said.

Norfolk patients' groups have welcomed an end to the mandatory "total triage" system that was introduced during the pandemic.

In a letter sent out on Thursday, GPs were told the use of telephone and online consultations can remain where patients benefit from them, but physical appointments must also be available from May 17.

Before the pandemic, some seven out of 10 of local doctor and nurse appointments were face-to-face, but this switched to around 70pc being done via phone, video or online at the height of the crisis.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, has called for change at East of England Ambul

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Norfolk Healthwatch, which gathers patients’ views of health and social care services in the county, said a return to focussing on in-person appointments addressed concerns that early signs of serious ailments were being missed.  

He said: “Telephone triage has been very good in terms of sorting out patients' problems whilst Covid has been the main worry, but GPs being told to reintroduce face-to-face consultations is very welcome news.

“One of the things that has concerned us is that illnesses and diseases have not been captured early. Patients do not necessarily want to chat freely on the telephone or not feeling comfortable doing so. 

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“GP and nurses also cannot pick up on a phone call those facial expressions where someone is not quite telling you everything.” 

NHS England has told GP practices that reception desks must now be open to patients.

NHS England has told GP practices that reception desks must now be open to patients. - Credit: PA

The NHS England letter also tells practices that reception desks must now be open to patients, in a Covid-safe manner, so those who do not have easy access to phones or the internet are not disadvantaged accessing care.

Dr Nikki Kanani, medical director for primary care at NHS England and director of primary care Ed Waller, wrote that patients' choice of consultation type must be respected.

"Patients' input into this choice should be sought and practices should respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary," they added.

The letter to GPs comes just two days after a report by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) heavily criticised plans to embed total triage into general practice post-pandemic.