Doctors are fuming about Government plans to ‘name and shame’ GPs if they ‘fail’ to see patients face to face.
Dr Julia Grace Patterson said family doctors fear the Government is ‘scapegoating’ them – when politicians are actually to blame.
She said GPs are sometimes not able to offer face to face appointments because of Tory underfunding of the NHS.
Despite this, she insisted that most NHS patients are happy with their consultations, with many preferring speaking over the phone to in-person appointments.
However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid today announced plans to ‘name’ GP surgeries that fail to offer more face to face appointments to patients.
Dr Patterson, who runs the EveryDoctor campaign, told The Mirror: “I feel incredibly angry about it as the Government aren’t listening to frontline workers.
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“There are more appointments being delivered than pre-pandemic and most people are happy with the appointments they are being given.
“Doctors are not always able to provide face to face appointments as the Government has underfunded the NHS.
“I think a minority of patients are frustrated and anxious. Any bar to seeing a doctor face to face will be frustrating.
“There are some circumstances in which a GP will be more efficient having a quick phone call than seeing a patient face to face.”
She said one of the ways in which phone calls can save time is by GPs not having to wait for patients to walk to the consultation room, especially if they have mobility issues.
Dr Patterson, 36, from London, said doctors are having to be more efficient because of cuts and staff shortages.
“We are 11 years into a Conservative Government and there have been huge cuts to the NHS and there are staff shortages. The Government isn’t taking responsibility for the problems,” the medic added.
She said many patients prefer telephone appointments to face to face consultations.
Some of these people are clinically vulnerable and do not want to meet in person, while others do not like the inconvenience of travelling to GP.
Dr Patterson added that those who really need face to face appointments will get them, while people with minor illnesses will not see their GP ‘at the drop of a hat’.
She slammed the Government for its ‘political attacks’ on doctors after their tireless work over the pandemic.
The doctor added that the attacks could lead to an ‘escalation’ of abuse against GPs.
“Doctors are concerned that the Government is trying to scapegoat them when it is the Government that is to blame,” she added.
“Doctors are having these attack pieces quoted at them in surgeries. Patients are coming in and blaming NHS staff.
“One GP in Manchester sustained a fractured skull in patient-led violence several weeks ago.
“We have a real concern that this abuse will escalate as the Government endorse anger to be directed towards GPs.
“This attack is enough to tip people over the edge. I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of GPs leave the profession.”
Data from NHS Digital shows that only 58% of GP appointments in England were carried out face-to-face in August.
This figure stood at 80% in August 2019.
It comes after Mr Javid today announced a new £250m package to pay for temporarily doctors and other help professionals at surgeries across England to help boost face to face appointments.
He also announced that patients will be able to rate their GP practice’s service by text, with appointment data set to be published from the Spring so surgeries can be compared.
Mr Javid told the BBC that the Government would not be publishing league tables – but the data will be available for patients to compare practices.
He said: “Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support.
“This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.
“Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety.”
However, GP Dr Jess Harvey described Mr Javid’s comments as ‘insulting’ and said family doctors are under ‘huge pressure’.
She told BBC Radio 4: “General Practice is on its knees, I don’t know anyone in General Practice right now who is not working their knuckles to the bone.
“Frankly for Mr Javid to describe us as underperforming is insulting. I’d invite him to come and see what we’ve done, see what I do on a daily basis and then to show me where I’m underperforming.
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“The more I read and hear about this proposal the less I think this Government understands about General Practice, how it’s run and to be honest the less in touch they are with what is going on in the real world, in the NHS and what we’re facing.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson also slammed the Government for its plans to ‘name and shame’ GPs.
She said: “The Conservatives have already missed their own targets to recruit and train more GPs. Now they are coming up with plans to name and shame GPs, which risks driving even more doctors away from the profession.
“The government should focus on meeting their own target of hiring 6,000 more GPs, instead of attempting to shift the blame onto doctors for their own failings.”
The NHS is also desperately trying to fill 40,000 nurse vacancies in England.
Health Education England is now offering £1,000 to former nurses and midwives wishing to rejoin the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
The cash will help returning practitioners cover studying and living expenses.