The Real Reason Why Your GP Surgery Still Isn’t Seeing Patients Face To Face

A new online league table “names and shames” GP practices over the number of appointments they offer and how many are face-to-face.

The league table, available via the NHS Digital website from Thursday, sets out how many appointments each practice in England is delivering and the length of time it takes to be seen.

The data reveals that just 12% of appointments are face-to-face at the lowest ranking trusts.

The government claims the statistics will help patients make “more informed choices” about the practice they choose.

But doctors have told HuffPost UK the system doesn’t tell the whole story behind why some practices are still semi-remote.

Dr Hannah Barham-Brown, a trainee GP based in Selby, points out that some patients actually prefer phone appointments – something that the new league tables do not factor in.

“For many of our patients who may have challenging shift patterns, caring responsibilities or disabilities, phone appointments are preferable as they save an often unnecessary trip into the surgery. Some of my patients with mental health conditions prefer not to come in, knowing they may have to sit in the waiting room for a while if we’re dealing with an emergency, or find it easier to talk on the phone than face to face,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“We have a lot of patients who when given the option, actively choose a phone consultation rather than taking on both the time and financial costs of travelling to an appointment, and it doesn’t need to be an either/or arrangement – if I speak to someone on the phone and feel that I do need to physically examine them, we generally still have the option to bring them in to do so. Overall many people find it more convenient.”

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There may be readers who have struggled to get an appointment at all – telephone or in-person. And we get it, it’s incredibly frustrating and in some cases, frightening when you have a serious health concern.

But an article published by the British Medical Association (BMA) last year highlighted how GPs are increasingly shouldering the blame for an “understaffed and under-invested-in NHS” with claims that GPs are “refusing to see patients” commonplace in the media.

In reality, there’s currently a shortage of around 4,200 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs across England alone, with concerns this will only increase without intervention.