RCGP survey highlights how GP care has been accessed recently

The Royal College of General Practitioners yesterday published the results of a survey of its members focusing on how GP care is accessed.

The results were published the same day Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock spoke at the Royal College of Physicians event commenting that GP tele-consultations should be default unless reason not to.

The College said “remote consultations won’t be suitable or preferable for everyone.”

Its survey of 829 GPs across the UK looked at access to general practice services and found that between 9th and 22nd July on average, 61% of GP appointments were conducted by telephone, with a further 16% spent doing telephone triage. 11% were conducted face to face, 6% by SMS or email, 4% online via video and 3% were home and care home visits.

The survey asked members about the efficiency of remote consultations “70% of respondents said telephone consultations increase efficiency, while 67% said video or e-consultations do so.”

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Telephone consultations are, of course, not new, but before the pandemic they accounted for around a quarter of consultations – during the pandemic, it’s been more like 70%, with face to face appointments reserved for those patients who really needed them.”

“We’ve also seen an increase in video consulting, with almost 90% of GPs telling us their practices are now video-enabled, even though these account for a small proportion of consultations overall.”

“Telephone consulting can be convenient for many patients – and as our survey results show, many GPs who have been doing telephone triage or consultations more frequently than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic have found them an efficient way of delivering care. They can also improve access to some of our harder to reach patients – those for whom the actual act of visiting a GP surgery can be a barrier to accessing care, which can include patients with mental health conditions.”

Professor Marshall highlighted the challenges and commented on the lack of visual cues to make a diagnosis: “we can’t do physical exams over the phone, we can’t give vaccinations or take blood tests. It’s a different skill to face to face consulting, but it can be effective, especially for patients with simple conditions. The biggest challenge is when patients have complex health needs as being in the same room as a patient, often who you have built up a relationship with over time, is incredibly useful and difficult to replicate remotely.”

“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.”