College sets record straight on NHSE letter

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the following.

"The strength of feeling amongst GPs since the publication of NHS England’s letter last week has been palpable. Its tone was misjudged, and the rigid expectations it sent out that practices should make changes at such short notice showed a lack of understanding of the pressures facing the profession. This is demoralising at a time when GPs are under more pressure than ever before and are feeling the strain of more than a year on the frontline of the pandemic effort. GPs need praise for their incredible efforts and support to keep on going.

"The RCGP was not invited to comment on the letter before it was issued. It gave GP practices just three days to make significant changes to their ways of working when GPs and their teams are exhausted, working under intense workload and workforce pressures.

"GPs and their teams adapted rapidly to new ways of working at the start of the pandemic, but don’t want call-centre medicine for their patients once the pandemic crisis has passed. However, we are still in a pandemic – there are rising cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in India – so a sensible and cautious approach to returning to more normal general practice is key.

"GPs and their teams have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic and this must be recognised and understood. GP services have remained available with ways of working rapidly transformed in line with official guidance and in order to keep patients safe, and according to the latest figures general practice is delivering a record number of consultations – more than half, in person. This is all on top of the leading role GPs and our teams are playing in the COVID vaccination programme, with 75% of vaccinations currently being delivered in primary care.

"Our report launched last week made clear that post-pandemic, face to face appointments will always remain a major element of general practice and we do not want to see general practice become a remote by default service. Post-pandemic, we want patients to be offered a mix of remote and in person appointments, based on a shared decision between GP and patient.

"We’re also still awaiting the updated Standard Operating Protocol (SOP). We hope NHSE use it as an opportunity to address the real concerns GPs have been raising and offer guidance on how to move forward in a safe and practical way.

"GP practices know their patient populations best, and need the flexibility to decide how to best meet their patients’ needs at a local level."

Further information

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RCGP Press office – 020 3188 7633/7494/7574
Out of hours: 020 3188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.