Mark Dolan: The National Health Service has become the National Covid Service

There are too many cases in which an absence of face-to-face appointments, has cost people their lives

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GPs are considering going on strike, over pressure to deliver face-to-face appointments. But how can you go on strike, when you've already been on strike for a year and a half?

GPs have reacted with fury, to a package of proposals put forward by NHS England and Sajid Javid, aimed at improving patients’ access to care, but which doctors believe will “name and shame” surgeries if they don't carry out enough face-to-face appointments.

The package was rejected by the BMA’s England GP committee, at a meeting on Thursday, and doctors have been urged by the union not to comply with the “very worst aspects” of the Health Secretary’s plan. The committee backed taking steps towards industrial action, over plans to force some GPs to publish their earnings, and to oversee the Covid vaccination exemption process.

It has been a source of eternal dismay to me to see the NHS close its doors to the British public for the last eighteen months. Images of GP practices' gates literally chained shut, will linger long in the memory, as the colossal health price of trying to control this virus becomes apparent. And photographs of purposefully empty GP waiting rooms the length and breadth of the land, reflect the madness of trying to make the NHS Covid secure and prioritising one illness over all others. Those waiting rooms should have been full of non-covid patients, not empty.

I’ve been on air non-stop throughout this pandemic, and I can't tell you the number of ordinary people that I've spoken to, or who have written to me, who have said in relation to the NHS that unless it's Covid, they don't want to know. It's become the National Covid Service.

Millions of people, myself included, are happy to embrace the brave new world of zoom appointments with the GP for minor consultations. It's practical, it's quick and will doubtless save the health service a fortune. And I'm all for boosting the role of pharmacists, perhaps letting them prescribe basic medication and deliver simple treatments. Why not? You shouldn't have to sit in your GP’s waiting room for two hours if you've got a touch of eczema.

But there are too many cases in which an absence of face-to-face appointments, has cost people their lives. An innocuous lump can turn out to be cancer, a stubborn rash can turn out to be sepsis, and acid reflux can be a heart attack.

On this very programme I spoke to Lisa King, whose husband Peter died because he couldn't see his doctor. Peter died after he was refused an in-person GP appointment, and had a routine operation delayed. Lisa told me the Government treated the loss of his life as the “collateral damage” of the pandemic.

It's time for GPs to fling open their doors and see anyone face-to-face, that wants an appointment. That's what we pay our billions for. We are customers and the NHS serves us, not the other way round. GPs are the gatekeepers of our health service, the first port of call. So they must be accountable.

They are responsible not just for the treatment of illness, but for the prevention and diagnosis of it, and there are limitations to an online consultation. So if we are now serious about saving lives and ready to finally start worrying about other illnesses that aren’t Covid, the message from GPs has to be clear. The Doctor will see you now.