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UK health secretary says GP consultations should be remote by default

In a speech on the future of healthcare and lessons for the NHS from the coronavirus pandemic, health secretary, Matt Hancock, said all GP appointments should be done remotely by default unless a patient needs to be seen in person.

Hancock admitted that while some mistakes were made, “so many things went right” in the response to the pandemic, and remote consultations should continue.

However, the Royal College of GPs have expressed concern, with some arguing remote consultations increased stress levels for patients and doctors and that removing face-to-face appointments could take the human touch out of general practice.

WHY IT MATTERS

Seventy-one per cent of routine GP consultations in the four weeks leading up to 12 April were delivered remotely. This represents a significant increase from just 25% for the same period a year ago.

A GPonline poll revealed that most GPs think more than half of consultations should continue to be delivered remotely after the pandemic subsides.

Despite this, the research also showed that there are still concerns around the harm to relationships with patients and the risk of missing serious conditions, with many patients needing physical examinations and vaccines.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

According to the Digital health: the changing landscape of how we access GP services report, online GPs could save employers £1.5 billion in lost working time.

In this report, researchers estimated that if virtual GP appointments had been offered as a first point of call across all public GP practices in 2019, face-to-face consultations could have been reduced by 50 million. 

The state of telehealth in Europe before COVID-19 was also analysed by HIMSS, parent company of Healthcare IT News, and the findings were presented in an eBook.

Meanwhile, Medicspot has announced a partnership with British supermarket chain, Asda to offer in-store GP video-consultations in the latest expansion of digital primary care services.

ON THE RECORD

Hancock said: “Before coronavirus there was a view advanced by some people which held that anyone over the age of 25 simply could not cope with anything other than a face-to face-appointment.

“This process has shown that patients and clinicians alike, not just the young who want to use technology. [People] don’t want to sit around in a waiting room, if that service can come to them at home.

“So from now on, all consultations should be teleconsultations, unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to.

He added: “Of course, if there’s an emergency the NHS will be ready and waiting to see you in person. But if they are able to patients should get in contact first by the web, or by calling in advance.”

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