Drop in face-to-face GP appointments as telephone consultations rise

One in six patients seeking a GP appointment in Ipswich and East Suffolk waited a week or more Pictu

A move to more telephone and video GP appointments is set to stay - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The number of Suffolk patients seeing GPs face-to-face has dropped dramatically - as doctors increasingly use digital and telephone methods to assess patients following the coronavirus crisis. 

NHS Digital data showed 81% of appointments in Suffolk and north Essex took place face-to-face in January 2020, with just 14% on the phone and 1% on video and online. 

By February 2021, the percentage of face-to-face appointments had fallen to 59%, with 36% of appointments now held over the phone. The number of video and online appointments remained fairly similar. 

Even though face-to-face appointments are still necessary, health leaders say the change in the nature of consultations will stay.

A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk, NHS West Suffolk and NHS North East Essex clinical commissioning groups, said: “Over the last year of coronavirus, GP practice staff have worked hard to ensure patients have been able access the care and support they need.

“GP practices have always offered telephone consultations, but the increased use of these along with video and online consultations is here to stay.

"Many patients tell us how much more convenient a digital consultation is for them.  

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“There will still be times when face-to-face appointments are needed, and they will always be available when indicated so that every patient receives the most appropriate care.”

David Pannell, chief executive of the Suffolk GP Federation, said: "The trend towards a greater mix of phone and video appointments started prior to Covid but was accelerated by the pandemic. 

"Across all of the NHS, face-to-face appointments fell in the spring of 2020 but then increased again - but not to the same level as pre-Covid.

"The mix of different appointment methods benefits patients.  They are highly effective for many patient needs, are convenient and means patients only need to be seen face to face when this is clinically necessary. 

"This is reflected across the NHS with a shift in many hospital outpatient appointments to telephone based consultations."