NHS England should engage with practice managers when developing protocols, the Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM) has said in response to a standard operating procedure it criticised as ‘tone deaf’.
The SOP, published last Thursday (13 May), ordered GPs to offer face-to-face appointments to all patients who ‘prefer’ one, which the IGPM said does not ‘support the argument that general practice has remained open’ throughout the pandemic.
The IGPM said: ‘Our friends at various LMCs and the BMA have made the points that we would reiterate. This SOP really is “tone deaf” and doesn’t appear to support the argument that general practice has remained open and working over the whole course of the pandemic.’
It added: ‘We strongly request NHSE to review their SOP, their methods of communication and to engage with practices, clinical directors, and practice managers when developing these protocols.’
The practice manager body also said in its statement that official bodies do not appear to ‘comment on the false claims’ that general practice has been closed to patients.
It added that over the last few months, practice staff have seen an ‘inordinate rise in demand but also a rise in the level of abuse from patients’, which it believes is a ‘direct result’ of these ‘false’ reports.
‘We are already in the midst of a recruitment crisis, and at a time when we are trying to entice clinicians into primary care via the PCN DES, we should be supporting general practice as much as possible,’ the statement said.
The SOP, which was communicated via a letter to practices, said that GP patients must now be offered face-to-face appointments if that is their preference.
The document said that practices should ‘respect preferences’ for face-to-face care ‘unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary’, including if the patient is displaying Covid-19 symptoms.
It added: ‘While the expanded use of video, online and telephone consultations can be maintained where patients find benefit from them, this should be done alongside a clear offer of appointments in person.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP Committee, described the letter as ‘tone deaf’.
He said: ‘The letter from NHS England is sadly completely tone deaf and rather than recognising the efforts GPs are making and the stress they are feeling as a result of the massive workload pressures they are currently experiencing, it has let them down and left them believing their efforts have gone unrecognised.’
Dr Vautrey added that most GPs choose family medicine because they ‘recognise the benefit of longstanding relationships’ with patients.
‘They do not want to be call centre clinicians but do want to get back to seeing more of their patients face-to-face. But this cannot happen overnight and there must be honesty around the current state of play,’ he said.
This follows general practice’s record-breaking March, during which GPs delivered 14.7 million appointments – more than any other month since records began.
Meanwhile, practice managers are dealing with the burden of managing staff retention, as data indicates only marginal increases in the number of GP and non-clinical staff during the pandemic.
NHS England declined to comment.