NHS coronavirus checker on a mobile phone

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NHS Digital

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The NHS 111 service has seen a huge rise in demand because of the pandemic

People should have phone or video consultations with their doctors unless there is a clinical reason not to, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says.

He said there had been a “hugely positive” response to virtual appointments during the coronavirus pandemic.

And there now needed to be a shift towards more “Zoom medicine,” he added.

But Mr Hancock said people unable to log-in or who need emergency care would still be seen in person.

He told a meeting at the Royal College of Physicians: “From now on, all consultations should be tele-consultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to.

“Of course if there is an emergency, the NHS will be waiting and ready to see you in person, just as it always has been.

“But if they are able to, patients should get in contact first via the web or by calling in advance.

“That way, care is easier to manage and the NHS can deliver a much better service.”

Mr Hancock said there had been dramatic changes to how the NHS worked as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and some things must not be allowed to go backwards.

He said the NHS “must not fall back into bad habits” and “we cannot and will not revert back to before”, saying there needed to be a shift towards “Zoom medicine”.

Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the increase in phone and online consultations during the pandemic had happened “out of necessity” and they could be an “efficient way of delivering care to patients”.

But he said doctors were already seeing more patients who wanted to have face-to-face appointments.

He added: “Remote consultations, whether by telephone or video, won’t be suitable or preferable for everyone, and that certainly isn’t what the college is suggesting.

“Once more normal service resumes in general practice – and we await official guidance on this – patients who want face to face appointments will be able to have them.”

He said telephone consulting posed a challenge for GPs at times, partly because of the the lack of visual cues that are often used to make diagnoses and particularly when patients have complex health needs.

Edel Harris, chief executive of the charity Mencap, said the announcement could seriously exacerbate the health inequalities that already exist for people with a learning disability.

He added: “The UK’s 1.5 million people with a learning disability should be offered face-to-face consultations automatically – without needing to ask for them.”

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