More than half of GP appointments are still being delivered remotely in a quarter of regions across the UK, new figures reveal. Since the beginning of the pandemic, virtual consultations have become the norm, while face-to-face appointments are now seen as a ‘privilege’. As a short-term measure during the first lockdown, most General Practitioners were speaking to their patients over the phone, videocall or email. Nearly 18 months after the beginning of the pandemic, face-to-face appointments have still not fully returned in the UK, data from the Commons Library identifies. Healthcare professionals across the UK have now revealed what type of appointments require an in-person consultation and which ones should remain virtually. They have claimed that three quarters of GP appointments could be conducted by nurses or pharmacists instead of doctors, such as medication checks and blood pressure readings. In addition, they have said that individuals who frequently suffer with urinary tract infections (UTI) should be spoken to virtually. Former chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), Dr Clare Gerada said: “If a young woman who has had a UTI before accurately describes symptoms of a UTI again, a GP doesn’t need to see her but can prescribe antibiotics. “It is when you have these symptoms for the first time, or UTI symptoms don’t clear up with treatment, that patients should push for a face-to-face consultation, as this may suggest GPs need to take a sample to check which antibiotic to give.” Experts have stated that people should see a GP face-to-face if they suffer with continuous headaches, constant back ache or serious skin conditions. They have also advised that children below the age of one with a high temperature should physically see a doctor. Additionally, suspected breast or testicular lumps should be examined in person, healthcare professionals say. Consultant Breast Surgeon at the Princess Grace Hospitals in London, Professor Kefah Mokbel said: “Most doctors and patients believe virtual consultations cannot be an adequate replacement for face-to-face consultations especially when a clinical examination is required in patients with breast symptoms. “Even breast cancer can present with symptoms less obvious than a lump — dimpling of the skin, for example.” He added: “With other cancers it may be even more subtle, hence the need for a face-to-face consultation. “However, virtual appointments are adequate for follow-up to ‘discuss results of tests, side-effects of treatment, management of chronic cancer symptoms and genetic counselling.” Previous studies have found that virtual diagnoses can be problematic, especially for complicated cases. New RCGP research has revealed that more than half of GPs think remote appointments are more suitable for current patients instead of newly joined patients. The government is keen to modernise remote consultations but has instructed GPs to still offer in person appointments. Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs said: “Face-face-appointments will always be an essential element of general practice, but remote consulting should also be an option as things get back to normal because there are advantages to both.”

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