Patients have the right to see their GPs face-to-face, the Prime Minister has said, as practices were put under pressure to move away from an over-reliance on digital consultations.
As Britain begins to return to normal in the wake of Covid, GPs have demanded more money to return to face-to-face appointments after official documents revealed the full impact on patients of not being able to see doctors during the pandemic.
But Boris Johnson's spokesman said that every patient had the basic right to a face-to-face appointment if that is what they preferred.
The Downing Street official told the Daily Mail: "The public rightly may choose to want to see their GP face to face - and GP practices should be making that facility available to their patients."
Official assessment by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week revealed the "unintended consequences" of resorting to remote consultations.
More than 175,000 diagnoses of key conditions are estimated to have been missed last year, the document states.
The analysis presented to the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) revealed that among the missed diagnoses in 2020 there were 39,227 diabetes cases, 44,216 cases of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), 38,167 cases of an irregular heartbeat, 20,561 cases of heart disease, 14,322 strokes and 18,640 cases of heart failure.
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Doctors claim that telephone and online appointments allow them to book more patients in for appointments. But critics say this trade-off isn't worth missing diagnosis that could be spotted in person.
The drop in diagnoses was likely "partly driven" by patients not coming forward but also doctors cutting faceto-face access, the report states.
An NHS spokesperson told The Telegraph: "Every GP practice must provide face-to-face as well as telephone and online appointments and continuing to offer all of these methods of consultation is part of making primary care as accessible as possible."
Former health secretary Kenneth Clarke told the Mail: "The relationship between the GP and his or her patient really depends on face-to-face consultation.
"I find it difficult to see how anyone can diagnose totally accurately symptoms described over the telephone. I think face-to-face appointments should go back to pre-pandemic levels and I don't see why they can't."
The Prime Minister's spokesman added on Monday night: "The NHS has been clear to every GP practice that they must provide face-toface appointments, and we fully support that.
"GPs throughout the pandemic have worked hard to see patients and appointment numbers have returned to pre-pandemic levels. It's right that the public expect to be able to see their GP in person, if needed."
Meanwhile, Scots have been warned to "think twice" before seeking help from GPs and were told they may never regain the right to face-to-face appointments with family doctors.
Medics' leaders yesterday claimed that the profession was united in opposition to plans to restart default face-to-face GP consultations - and instead suggested receptionists would be handed more influence in deciding which patients were seen face-to-face.
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