GP appointments in England are returning to their pre-COVID levels, but growth in tech-enabled remote consultations by GPs remains relatively flat, according to new NHS data.
New figures from NHS England suggest the volume of GP appointments is returning to pre-COVID levels, with the 28.3 million registered in March 2021 eclipsing levels seen before the crisis in January (27.1m) and February (24m) 2020. This comes after they plunged to just 15.9 in the early months of the crisis in Britain in April 2020.
Phone-based GP appointments dropped from a pre-COVID level of 23.4 million and 20.7 million in January and February 2020 respectively – to just 8.3 million in April 2020. This figure then grew steadily back 17.1 million by March this year.
While growth in video conference GP appointments has not been explosive during the entirety of the crisis so far, it has edged up marginally – standing at 28.2 million in March 21, compared to 26.9 and 23.9 in January and February 2020 respectively. Steeper fluctuations are, however, noted in the months between these two markers, with video conferencing appointments rising from a low of 15.9 in April 2020 to 28.1 in October 2020.
Reflecting on the figures, Dr Dan Bunstone, chief medical officer at Push Doctor, told HT World: “This data shows that alongside the mammoth task of rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination programme, GPs are managing to maintain routine care for patients.
“It’s the highest number of appointments we’ve seen in more than twelve months, even exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
“Over a year since COVID-19 hit, GPs are working harder than ever and pressures on the workforce are intense.
“Primary care clinicians are now facing the dual challenge of getting the vaccine into people’s arms as quickly as possible, while tackling the backlog of patients needing support for both their physical and mental health.”
Dr Bunstone continued: “Throughout this unprecedented period, GPs have adapted how they work to ensure that people can still access healthcare at a time of immense strain in the health service, which has often meant embracing digital solutions like telephone and video consultations, both with GPs and also online pharmacists, physios and mental health practitioners.
“These kinds of services, like the ones Push Doctor provides, will continue to support the NHS long after our daily lives return to normal and will play a key role in its recovery.”
Push Doctor is now one of the companies that is helping patients receive their GP services digitally after becoming a digital partner for Hounslow GP Practices in West London.
These types of services are vital for the country as HT World recently showed, covering a report from AXA PPP Healthcare that said online health services save UK businesses around £1.5 billion.