Get used to phone appointments or the NHS collapses - GP tells patients

Dr Tim Morton

Dr Tim Morton - Credit: Archant

Patients should get used to telephone appointments with their GP - despite what the Government has pledged - a leading doctor said today, warning that the alternative would be the NHS collapsing.

Dr Tim Morton, chairman of the Norfolk and Waveney Local Medical Committee (LMC), blamed a lack of doctors and investment for the change, dismissing the focus by politicians and the media on face-to-face appointments “a preoccupation”.

It comes as the LMC and the region’s Healthwatch, which champions patients, wrote an open letter, pleading with them to be “kind and respectful” when contacting their GP surgery and asking them to use online contact methods where possible.

They also stressed that patients should contact hospitals rather than GPs when concerned about waiting times.

See also: Full Q&A with Dr Morton - What it's like being a GP on the frontline today

The interventions come as part of a nationwide rebuke from doctors to the health secretary Sajid Javid.

New health secretary Sajid Javid addressed the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.

Health secretary Sajid Javid - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

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Mr Javid's department announced on Thursday morning that his department would publish league tables and even fine clinics which fail to offer enough face-to-face appointments.

Mr Javid said he would make £250m available for temporary staffing to ease backlogs, but also create a public league table of performance, saying “more data, more transparency” would help drive up standards across the country. 

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But the plans provoked a furious backlash from the British Medical Association (BMA) which represents GPs.

They said it showed a government “completely out of touch with the scale of the crisis on the ground.”

Dr Morton, a GP in Beccles, said: "There seems to be no end in sight for this preoccupation with face-to-face appointments.

The full text of the open letter

The full text of the open letter - Credit: Supplied

The full text of the open letter

The full text of the open letter - Credit: supplied

"If everyone was granted a ten minute consultation, the system would collapse within a day and waiting times would be listed in months.

"And since general practice is the bedrock of the NHS, if GP collapses the NHS collapses this winter."


GPs have reacted angrily to Sajid Javid's plan - Credit: PA

Dozens of patients have contacted this newspaper to complain that they cannot get a face to face appointment with their GP.

One reader wrote: “My husband was refused to be seen by a GP, and was told he had a viral infection.

“Then he eventually got an appointment to be seen and was told he had a secondary infection. 

“He then fell ill further and was taken by ambulance on a 999 call to be told in A&E that he had pneumonia."

Since the pandemic, the percentage of patients in Norfolk and Waveney to see their doctor face-to-face has fallen from 84 per cent to 69 per cent today, up from a low of 59 per cent in May 2020.

That compares well to national figures where 58 per cent now see a doctor in person, down from 80 per cent before the pandemic.

However, despite the decline in face to face appointments, according to the latest GP patients’ survey, 35 per cent of patients in Norfolk and Waveney got an appointment on the same day they contacted their surgery, and 75pc said had a good experience of making an appointment.

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