RCGP Scotland’s Joint Chairs issue letter to press calling out false narrative that GPs are refusing to give face to face appointments

In response to the intense media scrutiny that general practice has been subject to recently regarding face to face appointments, we have written a letter to the Daily Record to address such unfair and inaccurate claims. This letter has been issued in response to an article published Monday 4 October, for which the College has refuted.

You can read our full letter below.

Dear Editor,

On behalf of all GPs, we would like to express how disheartening it has been to read the myriad recent news articles within your publication which have suggested that GP surgeries have been 'virtually sealed shut' from the public throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when general practice requires more support and compassion than it ever has before. 

Whilst many healthcare professions have been praised, applauded and shown gratitude for their hard work throughout the pandemic, and deservedly so.
GPs have faced an onslaught of recent attacks, many of which have been demoralising and harmful to those who have continued to deliver a 24/7 service throughout the pandemic. 

All staff working across the health service are facing challenges and GPs are doing everything they can to safely care for patients and ease the pressures being felt elsewhere in the NHS. Right now we must work together, rather than against one another, to ensure the very best outcomes for our patients. 

We have continued to support all NHS colleagues and we cannot afford to be pitted against one another, at a time when standing together has never been needed more. It is stirring up a 'blame game' and risks setting patients against healthcare professionals, something we're already seeing with increasing reports of abuse against staff.

This detracts from the real issue: an underfunded, overworked and understaffed. Yet highly valued service that is doing its best for patients under significant strain. With winter pressures looming and patients requiring a heightened level of care, it is in the best interest for everyone to show unity and compassion for one another. 

That’s why it is deeply distressing for those working on the frontline to read inaccurate claims that GPs are not working just as hard as everyone else and are "refusing to give face to face appointments". Such divisive and distorted accusations completely undermine the incredible work that GPs are doing right now. 

Not only is this scrutiny demoralising and completely unfair, but it is also having a dangerous impact on the mental health and wellbeing of GPs and our teams, and also the relationships we have with our patients. Our primary fear is that this onslaught will be the final straw for many GPs and other practice team members, causing them to leave the profession before their time. 

We understand and are concerned by the frustration of our patients who feel that they have not been able to access their GP services in the same way that they had before the pandemic. Many GPs prefer to see their patients face to face, for many of us this was the reason that we became GPs in the first place. 

The value of the relationship between a GP and their patient cannot be undervalued. We look forward to a time when we are able to offer our patients an appointment in the way that works best for them, whether that be face to face, on the telephone or via video consultation. 

We know that many of our patients have found virtual and telephone consultations to be efficient, convenient and thorough. GPs work incredibly hard to deliver the same high-quality, care for their patient. Whether a consultation is remote or face to face.

Another misconception is that remote consultations take less GP time or is somehow an easier method of care delivery when seeing patients in this way often actually takes longer and GPs report is often more stressful too. 

The move to mainly remote consultations from the start of the pandemic was in line with Scottish Government guidelines. It was necessary for infection control and to keep patients – and GP teams – as safe as possible. However, the message that doesn't seem to be getting out there is that face to face appointments and physical examinations have continued throughout, wherever clinically appropriate and safe to do so. 

Most importantly, despite the easing of restrictions, this pandemic is far from being over and we cannot afford to be complacent, particularly as we draw closer to winter. Our main priority is to keep our most vulnerable patients safe, particularly in healthcare settings, and this is why many practices still have to exercise caution - particularly in some smaller surgeries, where GPs and their teams are working in more constrained spaces with fewer staff.

As we are caring for very vulnerable people, who have multiple conditions and may be immunosuppressed, we have to keep our waiting rooms safe in infection control terms too, and that requires time and space.

The underlying issue here is that the GP workforce is simply not big enough to meet the demands of a growing and ageing population. GPs were already working beyond full capacity even before the pandemic. We have been calling for some time for urgent action to boost our workforce to ensure that general practice can continue to deliver the highest standard of care for our patients now and in the future. 

The truth is that GPs have not shirked from patient care and do not have any desire to do so. However, many have often felt undervalued due to the continued misconception that general practice is closed, and this unrelenting criticism risks alienating our GPs completely. Many find the constant barrage of vitriol aimed at our profession to be utterly degrading. Of course, this leads to frustration and burnout and is undoubtedly contributing to our difficulty in retaining GPs. 

As always, we will do all that we can to meet soaring patient demand, working alongside colleagues in secondary care. However, we need the media to back general practice to make sure that GPs can get the support they require to deliver the care that patients need and deserve. 

Yours sincerely,
Dr David Shackles and Dr Chris Williams, Joint Chairs of RCGP Scottish Council

Further information

(For Media only)

Media requests to Lisa Boyle, Communications Officer

Tel: 07388 388 260
Email: lisa.boyle@rcgp.org.uk

Notes to editor

RCGP Scotland represents a network of around 5,000 doctors in Scotland aiming to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standard of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on resources, education, training, research and clinical standards.