GPs face-to-face plan not all it seems - Jane Bradley

Great news, the Scottish Government has said. Under its £1 billion healthcare recovery plan, we will be able to see our family doctors face to face again.

GPs were apparently not told of this headline-grabbing proposal before the publication of the recovery plan yesterday morning. Now surgery receptionists say they are already fielding calls from patients, who, upon reading the news, are rushing to book in to see their doctors in the flesh for the first time in a year and a half.

What is, perhaps, news to many is that at no time in the pandemic have in-person consultations stopped entirely.

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Surgeries triage patients through a phone consultation, which for many may be sufficient, then if an examination is needed, the patient is asked to make a follow-up in-person appointment.

GP surgeries have held a mixture of telephone and virtual appointments during the pandemic. Picture: PA

On the couple of occasions I’ve used the service for my own family over the past year, I’ve actually found it more useful.

No ducking out of work to trek halfway across town and sit in a stuffy waiting room with a group of coughing and spluttering fellow patients. Instead the doctor phones me in the comfort of my own home.

Virtual consultations will continue, the government says, but face to face will become the norm.

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While investment in GP services is welcome, the problems of an overstretched service – whether face to face or on the phone – cannot be fixed overnight.

The Scottish Government pledged pre-pandemic to recruit 800 extra GPs by 2028, but doctors cannot be magicked out of thin air.

Quite how this pledge to return to face-to-face meetings is going to be beneficial, I’m not sure.

Covid cases are at their highest ever level in Scotland – topping 5,000 for the first time ever on Wednesday – making me wonder why anyone would want to meet any other human face to face unnecessarily.

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A two metre social distancing requirement is still in place in healthcare settings, meaning that if we all suddenly flock back to GP waiting rooms – where the usual rows of seating have been replaced with a handful of single, distanced chairs – there will be a struggle for space.

New guidance on that is due to be issued, but not today. Until then, form an orderly queue in the car park.

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