Face-to-face appointments with east London GPs will only be offered “where clinically appropriate” from now on.
Earlier this year, Waltham Forest Council’s health scrutiny committee made a number of recommendations about access to GP and other “front door” services since the pandemic.
The committee urged NHS East London, a new commissioning body formed in July, to ensure GPs are “flexible” and offer access to care in “the most appropriate” way.
In a response published last week, NHS East London said it would only ensure patients have face-to-face appointments “where clinically appropriate”.
Other appointments, they added, will be available “via a range of online consultation methods” or telephone.
Statistics published by the NHS in August show that, of the 867,000 appointments offered by GPs in north east London in July, 37 per cent were over the phone.
NHS East London also rejected the committee’s call to directly monitor how GPs are using “triage” to prioritise patients who are asking for an appointment.
In its response, it said it would only agree to “encourage” practices to use the most effective triage method and insisted that online consultation is a “robust triage tool”.
Acknowledging concerns about excluding those without internet access, it added: “This will not disadvantage patients who are unable to use on-line consultation approaches and will support the use of telephone triage where appropriate.”
NHS East London has been approached for comment about how it will ensure patients are not disadvantaged but has not responded at the time of publication.
The committee also recommended that Waltham Forest Council ensures residents “know their options” about whether they can ask for face-to-face, telephone or digital consultations with GPs.
But council officers appeared not to respond directly, saying only that Waltham Forest will continue to “promote and amplify NHS messages” to keep the pressure off local A&E services.
NHS North East London, formed in July this year, serves two million people in Waltham Forest, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Havering, City of London, Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets.
It is led by former Haringey Council chief executive Zina Etheridge and chaired by former East London NHS Foundation Trust chair Marie Gabriel.