19 April 2020

RCGP Calls on Government for 'Remote Care' Plan for Patients During COVID-19

Access to basic IT hardware and software is preventing some GPs from carrying out remote consultations with their patients during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the results of a survey released today by the Royal College of GPs.

The survey of more than 1,000 GPs across the UK found that around 50% of GPs have not been able to practice remotely from home during the pandemic, with the vast majority (63%) stating to access to technology as a reason. Of those GPs who have been managing to work remotely from home, 55% reported difficulties with VPN connectivity as a key barrier.

VPN software allows GPs to access their practice's computer systems, including patients records.

The RCGP is now calling on the Government to ensure every GP practice has the necessary technology to allow GPs and their teams to work remotely from home, where necessary. This should include access to laptops, appropriate VPN connectivity and software to allow effective video consultations.

It also wants to see a 'remote care' plan published, setting out clear guidance and accountabilities for deploying technology to GP practices, and so that any technological gains made during the pandemic are not lost beyond the crisis when general practice starts getting back to normal and most patients are seen face to face again.

During the pandemic, GPs and their teams are playing a vital role in providing care to those who have health conditions and illnesses unrelated to COVID-19, as well as those with the virus.

Small numbers of face-to-face consultations are still being provided, based on clinical need, and GP teams are continuing to carry out vital work such as childhood vaccinations while wearing personal protective equipment when required and taking additional hygiene precautions on practice premises.

But in the main, during the crisis GPs have moved to new remote ways of working, in line with Government advice, and are now carrying out the majority of patient consultations remotely to keep themselves and their patients as safe as possible and reduce the risk and spread of infection.

Consulting remotely from home means that GPs can continue to work, even if they themselves are self-isolating, and provide care for the vast numbers of patients with long-term conditions and other diseases that are unrelated to COVID-19, thereby reducing the pressures on hospitals and other parts of the NHS.

However, the College's technology survey shows there is still some way to go before all GPs have universal access to the technology enabling them to effectively deliver patient care remotely.

Commenting on the survey, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "We've seen a very rapid and necessary revolution in the way care is delivered in general practice and the way GPs, our teams and our patients have adapted to this has been remarkable. However, we are still facing barriers – many GPs, for example, are telling us they are having technological difficulties with working remotely from home due to a lack of adequate hardware and software. This means that they can't undertake patient consultations if they are having to self-isolate but still well enough to work, and affects capacity across the rest of the service. We need this to be addressed urgently, so that GPs can continue to play a vital role in safely delivering care to patients with non-COVID conditions – as well as those with the virus – during this pandemic.

It's also imperative that we safeguard the technological advances we have made during the pandemic, so that we can continue to work in different ways in the best interests of patients when we eventually get COVID-19 under control. This is not to say that general practice is going to become a permanently remote service – many patients want and need to be seen face to face in order to properly address their presenting problems – but having the technological capability to offer remote consultations, where appropriate, will be beneficial for general practice, the wider NHS and most importantly our patients."

Further Information
RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7494/7633/7574/7575
Out of hours: 0203 188 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.