Patients hit out after doctor dismissed concerns about difficulties of face-to-face GP appointments

Furious patients hit out as doctors’ chief dismisses concerns about the difficulties of getting face-to-face GP appointments as ‘a lot of noise’

  • Professor Dame Clare Gerada angered patient groups by dismissing concerns
  • She brushed off worries over struggling to get a face-to-face GP appointment 
  • The GP said the shift to online consultations was a positive part of the pandemic
  • Campaigner Dennis Reed slammed her for being ‘dismissive’ to senior citizens

A leading GP has angered patient groups by dismissing concerns over the struggle to secure face-to-face appointments with family doctors as ‘a lot of noise’.

Professor Dame Clare Gerada, President of the Royal College of GPs, made the remark after describing the shift to online consultations as the most positive development of the pandemic.

She holds a stake in eConsult, a company providing remote consultation software to about half the country’s GP surgeries, which has profited hugely from Covid.

In an online conference hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine, Prof Gerada and other panel members were asked what they thought was ‘the most positive surprise’ to have come from the pandemic.

Professor Dame Clare Gerada has angered patient groups by dismissing concerns over the struggle to secure face-to-face appointments with GPs as ‘a lot of noise’ (stock image)

She answered that in general practice, it had been moving 1.2 million daily consultations ‘almost overnight into the remote space’, adding: ‘That’s either by telephone, but more often than not into digital consultations, and that is quite a monumental thing. 

‘Digital consultations went up about 1,000 per cent at the start of the pandemic. 

‘And though there was a lot of noise afterwards about, you know, patients want to be seen face- to-face, in fact research has shown that the vast majority of patients appreciated the fact that you can’t catch Covid from a computer or a telephone. So that’s a positive.’

Last night, Dennis Reed, of Silver Voices, a campaign group for senior citizens, said: ‘Her comment on patients’ legitimate concerns about online consultations being ‘a lot of noise’ is obviously very dismissive, particularly to older people.

‘The vast majority of people over 65 would prefer to have face-to-face appointments with their GP. 

‘In fact, many of them are not technologically adept enough to be able to access digital communication safely and comfortably.’

Before the pandemic, about 80 per cent of GP consultations were face-to-face. Despite calls by Health Secretary Sajid Javid for doctors to see more patients in person, it is still hovering at about 60 per cent. 

Campaigner Dennis Reed said her comments were 'dismissive' to older people who may not be 'technologically adept enough' to do online consultations (stock image)

Campaigner Dennis Reed said her comments were ‘dismissive’ to older people who may not be ‘technologically adept enough’ to do online consultations (stock image)

The low figure is mainly down to more appointments by phone, but patients are also being diverted towards a non-GP health worker or given advice on ‘self-care’. Software such as eConsult has been vital in enabling GPs to prioritise the patients they see.

Dr Arvind Madan, co-founder of eConsult, said clinicians liked it because they ‘can work from home’. It is used by 3,000 practices serving 26 million patients.

Dr Madan has worked for years at the Hurley Group of GP practices in South London with Prof Gerada, who was a director of eConsult from June 2016 until last November, quitting after becoming Royal College of GPs president.

Documents show that in March 2021 she held 6.6 per cent of eConsult shares, potentially worth more than £1 million. Last year, it made more than £1.1 million profit.

She has never hidden her involvement with eConsult and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing.

A Royal College of GPs spokesman said: ‘Patients should be able to access GP care and services in a variety of ways. The method of consultation should be a shared decision between patient and GP. It is important that patients’ views about their care are listened to.

‘We are sorry if some of the comments at the Royal Society of Medicine meeting have been interpreted as suggesting otherwise and have caused offence. This was entirely unintentional.’