Patients must be able to see a GP in person, says Boris Johnson

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Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs - Alicia Canter/eyevine
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs - Alicia Canter/eyevine

Patients are entitled to see a GP in person, the Prime Minister has said, amid mounting concern about access to face-to-face care.

Boris Johnson said people should be able to have “the security and confidence that they will be treated in person by a GP who can have proper hands-on understanding of the problem they have got”.

The Prime Minister said that without such reassurance, he was “absolutely certain” that deadly symptoms could be missed.

The intervention on Wednesday night came after the head of Britain’s GPs rejected calls for all patients to be allowed such rights.

Before the pandemic, about 80 per cent of consultations took place in a doctor’s surgery. However, the figure was just 57 per cent last month.

Patients’ groups and campaigners have said many vulnerable people have been unable to access care, with coroners linking a string of deaths to remote appointments.

On Tuesday, Prof Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told the Commons health and social care select committee that he did not expect a return to the previous levels of face-to-face appointments, describing the current split as “about right”.

Asked about the comments, the Prime Minister said on Wednesday night: “People should see their GPs in person if that’s what they need. Some people will be happy with other contact or reassurance. But a lot of people will need a face-to-face appointment and all the reassurance that gives. I want to see GPs seeing the right people at the right time and the right place.”

He continued: “We are pledged to deliver another 50 million GP appointments. People need the security and confidence that they will be treated in person by a GP who can have proper hands-on understanding of the problem they have got. That is only reasonable.

“People are entitled to that reassurance. I am absolutely certain that unless we can deliver that, there will be people sadly whose symptoms are not picked up and who will suffer as a result.”

In May, health officials promised to scrap a system of “total triage” introduced during the pandemic, which meant patients had to undergo appointments by telephone or video first, saying all patients had the right to choose to see a doctor in person.

However, Prof Marshall told MPs there was no point making such promises when GPs did not have the capacity to meet them.

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