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Patients urged to email or phone GP rather than have a face-to-face consultation

Head of NHS Confederation says it would take pressure off GP services and A&E

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Patients should be encouraged to email or phone their GP to outline their health complaints rather than turning up at the GP surgery for a face-to-face assessment, Mike Farrar, head of the NHS Confederation has told a committee of MPs.

He said that contacting doctors online would cut the number of face-to-face GP appointments and allow doctors to assess health complaint quickly and refer patients onwards more easily if necessary. This could include encouraging patients to come to the surgery for an appointment or arranging a home visit if required.

Mr Farrar made the suggestion when giving evidence to the House of Commons Health Select Committee for its inquiry into emergency care.

MPs had been told that A&E departments were under unsustainable pressure, and that too many patients were turning up in the evening and weekends with minor ailments because GP surgeries were shut.

Blaming problems in A&E departments solely on GPs no longer providing out-of-hours was a “red herring”, Mr Farrar argued because when the changes to the GP contract were brought in there was initially no marked impact on A&E services. He said the changes to GPs’ out-of-hours commitments were made because there were difficulties recruiting GPs because of the out-of-hours’ commitment, so expecting more GPs to work out-of-hours was not the solution.

Under a Patient Access scheme in Leicestershire and the East Midlands, patients who call a GP surgery have been given “immediate” access to a GP.

Mr Farrar said that, where a patient got to speak to a GP within 30 minutes to outline their problems and get advice, the scheme had resulted in around 40 per cent fewer face-to-face GP consultations. He added that there had also been a fall in A&E attendances, which they had not been intended.

“It does seem to point that immediate access to medical advice actually is very helpful in reducing your need then to go to A&E,” he said, emphasising that this required the use of telephone and online consultations, and that these could also take place out of hours.

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