20 September 2021

GPs and Patients are ‘On the Same Side’ Over Face to Face Appointments – But Chronic GP Shortages Make it Hard to Guarantee Safe Care, Says College

Please read below for our reaction to the Daily Mail’s campaign on face to face appointments.

We will continue to challenge unfair criticism of hardworking GPs in the media and elsewhere - and continue our calls on the Government to invest in general practice so that GPs can give patients the safe care they need.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs and a GP in East London, said:

“GPs go into general practice to care for patients. We’re on the same side and we share their frustrations when they face long waiting times for an appointment or trying to get through to the surgery. They should have access to high quality GP care when they need it - but that care must also be safe, and the chronic shortage of GPs is making this increasingly difficult to guarantee.
“General practice has been open throughout the pandemic. The move to mainly remote consultations was in line with government guidelines and was necessary for infection control and to keep patients – and GP teams – as safe as possible. Face to face appointments and physical examinations have continued throughout, wherever clinically appropriate and safe to do so. The number of face to face consultations had continued to rise since the peak of the pandemic and the balance with remote is now roughly half and half.
“Crucially, remote consultations have enabled GPs to carry on working, providing care and essential services to millions of patients at a time when other parts of the NHS had to shut down, and when many patients were reluctant to use the NHS for fear of catching the virus.

“Remote care is not substandard, and GPs work incredibly hard to deliver the same high-quality, care for their patients, whether a consultation is remote or face to face. We hear a lot of negativity around remote consultations, but we rarely hear about those patients who are very satisfied with being seen remotely by a GP and appreciate the convenience because it means they don’t have to take time off work or arrange childcare. There are some patients who find it easier to discuss more personal details about their health in a remote setting.

“We know that many patients will always prefer to see their doctor face to face, and many GPs prefer this method too as it can be easier to pick up on soft signs which can be useful in making a diagnosis.
“However, despite the easing of restrictions, this pandemic is far from over and we cannot afford to be complacent. The rise in the number of Covid infections means that we must continue to remain cautious, and take precautions to reduce the spread of infection, particularly in health care settings such as GP surgeries where vulnerable patients are being seen on a daily basis. 
“Post-pandemic, GPs will continue to offer a blend of face-to-face and remote consultations, based on shared decision making between the GP and patient and depending on individual needs and circumstances.
“But the underlying issue is that general practice is overwhelmed. Supply has fallen way behind demand and our workforce is not sufficient to deliver care and meet the complex needs of a growing and ageing population.
“Successive governments have failed to invest in the family doctor service for more than a decade and GP numbers have been allowed to decline while our workload has escalated in volume and complexity. The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs fell by 4.5% between September 2015 and March 2021, meaning that the ratio of patients to FTE GPs has increased by almost 10%. 
“GPs are finding it increasingly hard to deliver even safe care, let alone the personalised care that patients expect. This was the case before the pandemic, but the past 18 months have only exacerbated it and the pressures are now unsustainable. 
“Recruitment to GP training is looking positive but it takes time to train a GP and we are losing more colleagues than are coming up through the pipeline. The College’s own recent surveys show that six in ten GPs say their mental health has deteriorated in the last year - and 63% say they expect things to get worse over the next five years. 34% of GPs expect to leave within five years - a quarter due to stress and burnout - meaning over 14,000 GPs could be lost from frontline patient care.
“We have presented the Health Secretary and Chief Executive of NHS England with a five-point emergency rescue package for general practice that provides realistic solutions for halting the crisis and protecting the care of our patients by investing in the hardworking GPs and their teams who provide that care.
“We urgently need progress on the 2019 Conservative manifesto target of 6000 more full time equivalent (FTE) GPs in the next three years, and the recruitment and integration of at least 26,000 other members of staff into the general practice workforce by 2024.
“We are also calling for a system-wide programme to eradicate bureaucratic burdens and unnecessary workload, to prevent GP burnout and allow GPs more time to care for patients.
“GPs have been running on empty for too long, but patients deserve a family doctor and if general practice is allowed to collapse, the rest of the NHS won't be far behind it."

Further Information
(For media only)

RCGP Press office – 020 3188 7633/7494/7574

Out of hours: 020 3188 7659 


The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 53,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.