Professor Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said family doctors are dealing with a 30 per cent rise in referrals, such as for scans, after the Government's messaging kept patients away from surgeries during the first wave of the pandemic.
Prof Martial said colleagues were increasingly likely to encounter patients with cancerous growths and warned of the risks of virtual consultations after face-to-face appointments fell from approximately 75 per cent to just 10 per cent at the start of the pandemic.
In July, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said that in the future all consultations should be virtual unless there was a "compelling reason" for them not to be.
But Prof Martial said on Thursday that in many cases speaking to patients over the phone or by video hindered diagnosis and accused Mr Hancock of "overplaying his hand" when it came to the benefits of technology.
Face-to-face appointments have increased since the end of the first wave, recovering to 56 per cent of all consultations in September, according to NHS figures released on Thursday. The data also showed that surgeries saw 1.5 million more same-day appointments in the month compared to September last year.
However, previous figures have indicated that the number of urgent two-week referrals – the crucial NHS pathway that should get patients suspected of having cancer to a specialist within a fortnight – was down by at least 70 per cent during the height of the pandemic.
Prof Martial said: "There was a period where patients weren't coming to see us for a number of reasons, I think partly because they were worried about picking up an infection if they came into a health facility and partly because they took on board the message to protect the NHS.
"I'd say, in retrospect, that wasn't a very helpful message."
While acknowledging that telephone and video consultations could be positive, particularly for previously hard-to-reach groups such as adolescents, he said the "jury is out" on their future as a default method.
"I think we've got a long way to go as a speciality in understanding how to be effective clinicians when we're conducting remote consultations," he said. "We are potentially taking risks by not seeing people face-to-face, and that's a big decision that needs to be made by clinicians in conjunction with patients – when does face-to-face add value?”
Prof Marshall also said GPs and local public health teams had been under-utilised as part of the Test and Trace programme, which has a heavy reliance on outsourcing companies.