Milton Keynes one of the best places in the country to get face-to-face GP appointment

Figures show around 70% of patients seen either in surgery or at home during August

Friday, 1st October 2021, 3:15 pm
Updated Friday, 1st October 2021, 3:16 pm

Access to face-to-face GP appointments varies widely depending on where you live, though the picture in Milton Keynes is better than most other parts of the country, figures show.

Across England, rates of remote appointments remain at similar levels to those seen in the winter lockdown, analysis of NHS England data shows.

Telephone or online calls made up 39% of all appointments in August, the first full month since Coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

Face-to-face GP appointments are still well below pre-pandemic levels

This compares with 41% in January, during the winter lockdown.

But face-to-face GP appointments were still well below pre-pandemic levels.

In August the Beds Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said GPs booked 388,777 appointments with 70.12% of patients seen in person either in surgery or at home with 25.83% of patients having a remote appointment, either by phone or video.

Nearly three-quarters of appointments in the North Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area were in person in August, either at surgeries or through home visits - the highest rate in the country.

In comparison, face-to-face consultations made up less than half of all appointments in South East London, East Staffordshire, South Sefton in Merseyside and Bolton.

Appointments where the location was unknown accounted for up to 9% of the total in these areas.

Overall Beds Luton and MK CCG ranked 99 in a list of 104 CCGs - with 1 equating to the lowest percentage of GP appointments in person.

Patients’ body Healthwatch said some people struggled with remote appointments, such as those who speak English as a second language, and called for NHS England to carry out a full review of access to surgeries.

The British Medical Association, the doctors’ trade union, said GPs were “doing their best to give as many patients as possible the appointments they need safely” amid huge backlogs and staffing shortages.

The ability to book face-to-face appointments remains a hotly debated topic, with the BMA warning that its members are facing increasing hostility from some patients over the issue.

Earlier this month, health secretary Sajid Javid called on GPs to provide more face-to-face appointments, telling MPs that “life is starting to return almost back to completely normal” after the pandemic.

NHS England issued guidance in May stating that “practices should respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary”.

And a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said yesterday: “We are clear GP practices must provide face-to-face appointments to those who want them, alongside remote consultations.”

He said primary care needed a flexible model which gives patients the choice of how and where they are seen.

He said: “Remote appointments have been hugely positive for some people, and they create opportunities to make care more flexible.

“However, they are not always the best approach for everyone or every circumstance, including people who don’t have access to the Internet, for whom English is not first language or those in a mental health crisis.”

Organisations representing doctors said GPs were working harder than ever amid a nationwide staffing shortage.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Ultimately we need more GPs and other members of the practice team to deliver the care our patients need.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “Every GP practice must provide face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointments as part of making primary care as accessible as possible for patients - the latest figures show that around 24 million appointments were delivered in August alone, above pre pandemic levels, with more than half delivered in person.

“Record numbers of people are now training to become GPs, with up to 4,000 new starters this year and the NHS invested £270 million to expand general practice capacity during the pandemic on top of rising investment over the last five years.”