Health secretary Matt Hancock has called for all GP consultations to take place remotely by default, leading to concerns for the disabled community.
In an announcement yesterday (30 July), Mr Hancock set out what he sees as lessons for the NHS and care sector from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
He argued that while some errors were made, a lot of things went right and highlighted a new way of working that should continue after this crisis.
An increase in the use of technology has been seen across all sectors and in homes across the country, but the health secretary is now calling the huge increase in web-based GP consultations to continue.
In the four weeks leading up to mid-April this year, 71% of routine appointments were done remotely compared to 25% in the same period a year before.
Unless there is a reason a patient needs to be seen in person, all GP consultations should now take place remotely.
Mr Hancock also touched on a greater need for the use of technology in healthcare generally, and a need for better cooperation between different parts of the NHS.
While the increased use of technology has come with many benefits throughout the pandemic, there is also concerns around the continued use of remote consultations.
An increase in the use of technology for things like healthcare consultations leaves a greater opportunity or digital exclusion.
Edel Harris, chief Eeecutive of the learning disability charity Mencap, says: “Technology is wonderful, but not everyone can access it.
“The Secretary of State’s announcement that all consultations should be tele-consultations, unless there is a compelling reason not to, could seriously exacerbate the health inequalities that already exist for people with a learning disability.”
“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,” adds Edel. “This is a reasonable adjustment and we will be asking NHS England to ensure this happens – starting with annual health checks’.
The logistics of how this new system will work are yet to be announced, but it is hoped there will be exemptions and adjustments for people with certain disabilities.