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Matt Hancock has said all future GP consultations should be done over the phone or by video unless there is a “compelling clinical reason” for a face-to-face appointment.
In a speech on Thursday, the health secretary said it was wrong to “patronise older people” by not believing they were capable of using technology.
“So from now on, all consultations should be teleconsultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to,” he said.
“Of course, if there’s an emergency, the NHS will be ready and waiting 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.”
Hancock said this change would be particularly useful in rural areas where it could save long travel times for doctors and patients.
But Mencap, the learning disability charity, said moving away from in-person consultations could “seriously exacerbate the health inequalities that already exist”.
Edel Harris, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The UK’s 1.5m people with a learning disability should be offered face-to-face consultations automatically – without needing to ask for them.
“This is a reasonable adjustment and we will be asking NHS England to ensure this happens – starting with annual health checks.”
Speaking at the Royal College of Physicians, Hancock also said he wanted the NHS to have “leaders at all levels” who have a mentality like Admiral Nelson and his fleet.
“When the British Navy was heavily outnumbered at the Battle of Trafalgar, it was Nelson’s approach to leadership, the ‘Nelson touch’, that proved to be decisive,” he said.
“Admiral Villeneuve, whose fleet was defeated by Nelson, said it best. He said to any other nation the loss of Nelson would have been irreparable, but in the British fleet every captain was a Nelson.
“This is the mentality that we need. I want an NHS and care system that is full of leaders, leaders at all levels.”
Hancock’s speech came shortly after an analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed England had the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe across the first half of 2020.
It is the first time the ONS has compared mortality rates in different countries to measure the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.