Wales will be ‘embracing’ remote GP consultations for the future with no ‘rush’ back to face-to-face consultations ‘unlike England’, the health minister has said.
It comes as the BMA’s GP Committee chair for Wales warned that a ‘GP workforce crisis’ is ‘here’ and ‘must be addressed now’.
Health minister Eluned Morgan told the BMA Wales LMC conference on Saturday that there would be ‘no push from this minister unlike others in England’ on GPs’ return to seeing patients face to face.
Ms Morgan, who is married to GP Dr Rhys Jenkins, stressed that GPs in Wales will not be going back to ‘the old ways of working’.
She said: ‘When it comes to remote consultations – where appropriate – we will be embracing them for the future and there will be no push from this minister unlike others in England to rush back to face-to-face consultations if it is not necessary.
‘We know from our extensive polling that the majority of the population are content with the changes and whilst we must be sensitive to the older generations’ needs and your ability to carry out safeguarding responsibilities, we will not be returning to the old ways of working.’
She added that she ‘[does] not underestimate’ the pressure GPs and their teams are facing and that she has ‘instructed health boards to shift more of their core resource from secondary care into primary care’.
However, GPC Wales chair Dr Phil White told the conference that general practice has been ‘pressured’ into offering more face-to-face appointments when many patients ‘prefer remote consultation’.
He added: ‘Over the past six months we have seen escalating consultation levels to way beyond comparable pre-Covid periods. This is unsustainable.’
‘It is leading to burnout, early retirement, change of career, all of which ramp up the pressures on dwindling GP numbers.’
In what was his last conference speech as BMA GPC Wales chair, he said: ‘We have warned successive governments over many years that there would be a GP workforce crisis, and here it is.
‘Be warned NHS Wales, if general practice fails, secondary care will be buried in a tsunami of work and the Covid recovery plan will be obliterated.’
Dr White told delegates that the Government must ‘invest in general practice’ to provide more doctors and staff and better premises.
‘This is a crisis, and it must be addressed now,’ he said.
Welsh GP leaders attending the conference unanimously passed a motion calling for ‘unresourced’ workload dumping onto general practice to end.
And a motion that called on GPC Wales to ‘consider a mechanism to cost for secondary care workload transfer’ was also passed as a reference.
It is not the first time the Welsh Government has taken a different stance from England’s Government on issues affecting GPs.
When NHS England announced its Winter Access Fund, providing an extra £250m for GPs if they offered an ‘appropriate’ level of face-to-face appointments, the Welsh Government said it was working with GPC Wales to improve access to services ‘in a collaborative way, not driven through accusations of underperformance’.
And in November, the Welsh Government said it would not be consulting on mandatory Covid vaccinations for healthcare staff like in England.