Question From Reader About Legality of Remote GP Appointments

The doctor will hear you now

Can anyone answer these questions from a reader about the legality of restricting NHS care?

The Government revoked and replaced the Coronavirus Act 2020 with a pared down Part 2 on July 3rd. Matt Hancock announced that healthcare appointments would remain virtual/remote for the foreseeable future. I wondered if one of your clever readers might be able to explain what is and is not a legal requirement when it comes to the provision of NHS care? After all, when challenged, the Government said it never ordered schools to close, merely recommended it. Is this is a similar situation?

I ask because my elderly dad is 85 and his memory loss has rapidly accelerated under lockdown which is really affecting quality of life. He gets very flustered with technology – even phone calls make him anxious. We’ve had a specialist second opinion and the consultant wrote to the GP asking him to carry out some tests and to support my dad. His GP will not see him in person, only remotely, and only then when you’ve run the gauntlet of the terrifying receptionists to get a phone slot. We are in a small rural market town and in our county Covid cases and deaths have remained incredibly low – you’re more likely to be trampled to death by a herd of escaped cattle.

It seems extraordinary to me that a 20 GP mega-practice which serves the town and its huge hinterland can just close its doors, and ration and suspend services in this way. I’ve heard anecdotally of patients being asked to take photos of body parts and email or text them to the surgery, as they can’t be seen in person. Surely, that cannot be good medical practice, let along consistent with GDPR, or patients’ rights to confidentiality, privacy and dignity? One would hope that the Public Sector Equality Duty still applies, and GP practices are obliged to properly equality impact assess any provision. One would assume they have to properly risk assess it too (Covid not being the only risk!). If your GP practice is over-reaching and presenting guidance as law, what recourse do patients have? I know we were told we had to protect the NHS, but my dad has paid his taxes all his life. It seems really unjust that he’s getting such threadbare care.

By 3 August 2020