Published: 20:30, 05 August 2020
| Updated: 20:32, 05 August 2020
by Tommy Lumby, RADAR AI
Demand at GP surgeries in Kent jumped in June, figures show, with activity closer to pre-coronavirus levels.
The Patients Association welcomed the rising numbers of people accessing their local doctor across England but warned continuing use of remote sessions must not become "the new normal” without assessing the benefits to patients.
NHS Digital data shows patients booked 582,485 appointments with practices in the NHS Kent and Medway CCG area in June – 25% more than in May.
While this was still 11% fewer than during the previous June, demand in May was down by 33% year-on-year.
The picture was similar across England as a whole, where 20.6 million appointments were made in June – 4.3 million more than in May.
It means appointments in June were 11% lower compared to a year ago, while in May they had been down by 33%.
The NHS cautions that changes in how practices operate during the pandemic may have affected the figures, with remote consultations underreported.
The Royal College of GPs says demand at surgeries could soon surpass pre-crisis levels as people feel more confident accessing services.
Chairman Professor Martin Marshall said: “As normal services begin to resume, general practice will be at the forefront of dealing with the health consequences of the pandemic, as well as continuing to deliver routine GP services and an expanded flu vaccination programme and prepare for a potential second wave of Covid-19.
"It is essential that GPs and their teams have the necessary guidance, resources, and workforce capacity to manage these new challenges and continue to deliver good-quality care to patients.”
In Kent and Medway, 47% of sessions were completed over the phone in June, up from just 12% a year ago, although the consultation type was recorded as "unknown" in 14% of cases.
Nationally, 48% were conducted over the phone, compared to 13% last year.
In a recent speech to the Royal College of Physicians, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the switch to more remote consultations had been “hugely positive”.
He called for all sessions to be done remotely unless there is a "compelling clinical reason not to”.
But chief executive of the Patients Association Rachel Power said the Secretary of State should publish evidence showing this works for patients.
She added: “Patients have put up with a great deal over recent months to help the NHS cope with an unprecedented emergency – often at considerable cost to their own health and wellbeing.
"Phone, online or other types of virtual appointments cannot be allowed to become the new normal without an assessment of the benefits to patients."
Prof Marshall said a recent survey of RCGP members found 70% of respondents thought telephone consultations increase efficiency.
He added: "However, many patients – and GPs – prefer face-to-face consultations, particularly for patients with complex health needs. We need to strike a balance and be able to offer patients a range of access options to GP services to suit their needs and preferences."
An NHS spokesman said: “GPs have had to adjust the way they work to protect people from the risk of the virus – remote consultations offer a convenient, safe option for patients to access care in addition to face-to-face appointments."