Former social services watchdog chief calls for GP receptions to be more welcoming to patients

A minister has been urged to step in and “persuade” GP receptions to be more user friendly and welcoming to patients.

The call was made by former social services watchdog Lord Laming, who told Tory frontbencher Lord Kamall he would be “hugely popular in the country” for taking action.

It came as the minister acknowledged the return of health services, such as hospital visiting and doctors’ appointments, to pre-pandemic levels was “very patchy”.

Lord Kamall was responding to questions in Parliament on the restoration of NHS facilities to normal in the wake of the public health crisis.

He told peers: “NHS services are open to patients and numbers of general practice appointments have returned or are returning to pre pandemic levels.

“As before the pandemic, hospital visiting is currently at the discretion of NHS Trusts.

“Hospitals are expected to accommodate at least one hour of visiting per day and preferably more.

“The department is working closely with the NHS to tackle the COVID-19 backlog and restore pre-pandemic activity and performance as soon as possible.”

Lord Kamall added: “We are very aware that this idea of returning to normal is very patchy in different parts of the country.

“Some people have told me to visit their GP or visit a hospital it’s fine. Others are telling me they’ve had real trouble.”

He said: “There’s clearly an issue of capacity. But also some people are trying to get face-to-face appointments with their GPs. At the same time, some practices are trying to move to offering a more technology-based service.”

Independent crossbencher Lord Laming, a former chief inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate, said: “I wonder if the minister realises that he could make himself hugely popular in the country, if he could persuade GP practices’ reception facilities, to be all the more user friendly and to be welcoming to the clients?”

Noting the agreement among other peers, Lord Kamall said: “We always have to be careful about this issue because people have had different experiences.

He added: “If I say GPs should be doing more, I’ll be criticised for being tough on the GPs.

“But if I say we have got to understand GP practices are under a lot of pressure, I will then be criticised for not pushing to solve this problem hard enough.”

Lord Kamall pointed out the pandemic accelerated pre-existing trends wit the move towards technology and some people happy to contact their GP by phone or online.

He added: “I don’t think will ever go back to 100% face-to-face, but patients should be able to have that unless there’s a good clinical reason why they can’t.”

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