Face-to-face GP appointments can’t return to pre-pandemic levels without more funding to help expand surgeries, a British Medical Association chairman has claimed.
Dr Richard Vautrey, the chairman of the BMA's General Practitioners committee, said patients are wrong to think they received "worse care" as a result of not seeing a doctor in person during the pandemic.
The BMA recognises there aren't enough GPs and nurses, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
But to fix this they are calling on the Government to do what they "promised to do which is to recruit 6,000 more GPs, to invest in our premises, to invest in our staff and our service and by doing that we will get a better service for our patients".
In order for patients to have face-to-face appointments again he said "we need the number of GPs to increase to do that, we need the space within our surgeries to increase to be able to do that safely".
Doctors want to see their patients "when it is necessary to do so," he added.
Latest NHS Digital figures show around 14.6 million face-to-face GP appointments took place in July 2021, down from 20.8 million in July 2019.
Dr Vautrey said the BMA has been "really frustrated" by the "lack of support" from NHS England and the Government for GPs.
"And it's ironic isn't it, that I've had to write three times to the Secretary of State in the last two months to seek a face-to-face appointment and he's not yet had the courtesy to answer even the letters," he said.
"They're not investing in general practice as seriously as they need to. We've seen the Government come forward to deal with the backlog in secondary care , we haven't seen the same commitment to general practice."
Dr Gemma Moore, a GP partner at Ombersley Medical Centre, Worcester, told the Today programme that keeping patients safe and operating the "best healthcare" is "not always about you sitting in waiting room with 20 other people on a Monday morning where good chances are if you didn't have Covid when you came in you might be going out with Covid".
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said this week it was understandable why GPs could not provide the same access during the pandemic, but said "we are way past that now" and "life is starting to return almost back to completely normal".
"And as that is happening it should be happening in our GP surgeries too, and more GPs should be offering face-to-face access. We intend to do a lot more about it," he said.
More than 10,000 people have signed a BMA petition calling for GPs to receive more funding.
Dr Vautrey said: "We should not have to have a petition about England needing a properly funded GP service. Patients should be getting the level of care they deserve and GP practices must be properly resourced to give it.
"The fact that more than 10,000 people have signed our petition in less than a month goes to show how important a well-resourced GP service is to our patients, and the Government needs to listen and take action."
NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care were approached for comment.
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