Responding to new data on general practice consultations published by NHS Digital today, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "GPs and our teams have been working incredibly hard throughout the pandemic ensuring that services have been available, albeit delivered differently than usual in many cases.
"This has been to maintain infection control in surgeries and keep patients and staff safe – as well as ensuring GPs have been able to continue working, delivering patient care. Where face to face appointments have been necessary, they will have been facilitated in a way that has kept patients as safe as possible - and we are currently seeing around half of appointments in general practice delivered in person.
"We know that during the first lockdown, there was a drop-off in general practice consultations being delivered, which is reflected in this data. This could have been down various factors, including patients being reluctant to seek medical care for fear of contracting COVID-19 or concerns that they were being a burden on the NHS during the pandemic, or a lack of clarity around 'stay at home' guidance. However, by last summer GP consultation rates were around or exceeding normal levels. We also need to remember that counting consultation numbers is a rather blunt measure of workload in general practice that doesn’t account for complexity of consultations, which has increased during the pandemic with, on average, nearly three problems being presented at each visit.
"GPs and our teams are currently taking a leading role in the COVID vaccination programme, delivering around 75% of jabs in England: this has been a Herculanean effort that is unlikely to be fully reflected in today's data. It is also unlikely to reflect the full extent of the expanded flu vaccination programme, delivered in general practice with record uptake of more than 80% amongst patients over-65.
“As well as delivering the COVID vaccination programme, GPs and our teams are continuing to deliver the care our patients rely on us for – and we will be at the forefront of caring for those whose health has been directly or indirectly impacted by COVID-19. We urgently need more GPs and more members of the practice team to continue delivering the care our patients need, now and in the future."