Delivering quality primary care is proving ‘increasingly difficult’ in the wake of COVID-19, according to Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the RCGP

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Delivering quality primary care is proving ‘increasingly difficult’ for GPs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has told MPs.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the RCGP, told the Health and Social Care Select Committee that, while some patients preferred appointments over the phone or via video, others wanted to be seen face to face, but could not be because of COVID-19.

Professor Marshall was giving evidence to an inquiry into how the health service can clear the backlog of cases in general practice, mental health, and long COVID services.

He told MPs that about 80% of general practice appointments were conducted face to face prior to the pandemic—this dropped to 10% in the first wave, and has now settled at around 56%.

GPs ‘leaving the service’ 

‘The main problem is the plug is out of the bath, Professor Marshall warned. ‘More people are leaving the service, either by working part time or by retiring early, and that is as a consequence of the fact that general practice is a highly pressurised job, and it’s impacting on clinicians’ mental health.’

Asked if patients had a right to see a GP in person, Professor Marshall said: ‘There’s no point in having a right if it’s undeliverable, and it is essentially undeliverable at the moment, because of the workload pressures.’

He said that GP workload had gone up over the pandemic ‘and indeed over the last decade’.

He added: ‘The second thing is, really importantly, the pandemic isn’t over. We’d like to think it is—it isn’t over. It might be over for pubs and nightclubs; it’s not over for health services.’

Professor Marshall told the Committee that ‘the idea of having somebody who is fit and healthy but shedding the virus sitting next to someone who’s vulnerable in a waiting room is just not something that’s acceptable’.

He said that both clinicians and patients would take time to become accustomed to remote consultations, but that he suspected patients ‘will get used to it’, adding ‘I don’t think we’re going to go back to 80% of consultations in general practice being face to face’.

Abuse against primary care staff 

Extensive media coverage recently has criticised GPs for adopting remote consultations as a standard for care.

Earlier this week, the British Medical Association (BMA) urged the Government to address a ‘terrible trend’ of abuse, harassment, and physical attacks on GPs and other staff working in primary care.

The warnings came in the wake of an incident at a GP practice in Manchester on 17 September 2021, during which four members of staff were injured following a confrontation with a member of the public.

A survey of GPs and hospital doctors carried out by the BMA in July 2021 found that 71% of GPs reported that their experience of abusive behaviour had increased compared with a year ago.

The Chair of the BMA’s GPs Committee, Richard Vautrey, said: ‘GPs and practice staff should never have to fear going to work, and patients should also feel confident that their surgery is a place of safety.’

The BMA said that ministers needed to increase resources to recruit more GPs.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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