The Patients Association has warmly welcomed the new requirements on GP practices to offer face to face appointments to patients who want them.

Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “Patients have made clear how difficult they have been finding access to GP services, and that most commonly they clearly prefer to see their GP in person. We called for the restoration of in-person appointments as the default option when we published our second Pandemic Patient Experience report, which showed starkly how patients have been struggling to access primary care in a way that meets their needs.

“It will be a great relief to many patients to know that their GP should now unquestionably be offering face to face appointments. We saw how media reports of our findings clearly resonated with patients and arose strong feelings. We hope that many patients will now be able to rebuild their relationships with their GPs and benefit from the assurance that will bring them.”

The NHS’s new instructions to GPs require them to make, “a clear offer of appointments in person,” and, “respect preferences for face to face care unless there are good reasons to the contrary.” The instruction to identify patients’ preferences is clear: remote consultations will still be available for those who prefer them, but the letter to GPs observes that some patients have struggled to use new forms of access.

GPs will still be allowed to arrange a remote appointment in the first instance, if the patient reports having COVID symptoms.

Rachel Power added: “We now look to general practice to make this a reality. We recognise that GPs are very busy, and that this will be demanding for them. But patients are counting on them to rise to the challenge: it is not acceptable for NHS services to be setting up systems that work for them but not for patients.”

Our Pandemic Patient Experience II report is based on a survey of predominantly older patients with long term conditions, and key findings include:

  • 48% of respondents felt that remote GP appointments offered a worse experience, compared to just 16% who preferred them
  • GPs were the services that patients had struggled to access most since the first wave of the pandemic, when access to NHS services was most heavily curtailed; patients reporting difficulty accessing primary care grew by 50%, on top of those who had struggled in the first wave
  • Remote GP appointments were mostly by phone; newer digital services have been encountered by only a small minority of patients
  • 70% of respondents were worried that services would become harder to access over the long term
    When asked whether their health and care needs had been supported overall, patients were evenly split in their answers (43% yes and no, 13% don’t know); this was worse than last summer, when 53% answered yes.
Picture taken by Utopix