Watford’s MP has urged the health secretary to encourage a return of face-to-face appointments at GP surgeries.

MP Dean Russell raised concerns at the Commons over many GP surgeries in Watford that are “still not opening their doors” to see patients.

Since being appointed as health secretary, Sajid Javid has told nearly 1,000 GP surgeries in the UK to provide more face-to-face appointments after discovering that patients felt their basic needs were not being met.

Virtual appointments became the favoured approach by surgeries since the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it sparked concerns that a full duty of care was not being provided due to the virtual barrier opposed to a face-to-face service.

And despite most Covid-19 restrictions now lifted, over a half of appointments in England are in person, whereas eight in 10 were in person before the pandemic.

After the Government’s ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’ plans were revealed today in the approach to a potential Winter Covid surge, Mr Russell questioned whether it was time that more GP surgeries allowed in-person appointments.

He said: “Does he [Sajid Javid] agree with me that we should encourage those GP surgeries to start opening up to help with the backlog and help see people face-to-face?”

Mr Javid replied: “Yes, I agree with [Mr Russell]. He’s right to raise this.

“I think everyone can understand why during the height of the pandemic that GPs couldn’t provide access in the normal way.

“But we’re way past that now, 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.”

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, has spoken out on criticism GPs have faced recently for the continued use of remote consultations.

He said: “It’s a misconception that GPs aren’t seeing patients face to face. General practice has been open throughout the pandemic and face to face appointments have continued to be been offered wherever safe and appropriate.

“GPs had to switch to largely remote consultations at the start of the pandemic out of necessity for infection control and to protect their patients and themselves from the virus.

“General practice is now making more patient consultations than before the pandemic, with well over half being face to face. It is also important to remember that we are still in a pandemic, and GP practices are high risk for disease transmission so it’s vital we take measures to minimise this, to continue to keep patients as well as GPs and our teams safe."

"We understand patients’ frustrations when they have to wait a long time for an appointment but GPs are currently working under intense workload and workforce pressures.

“There is a huge shortage of GPs and our workforce is simply not big enough to manage the needs of an ageing and growing patient population with increasingly complex needs."

The professor continued: “This was the case before the pandemic and it has only been further exacerbated by the events of the past year.

“The Government made a manifesto pledge of an additional 6,000 GPs by 2024 – plus 26,000 additional practice staff - and we urgently need these numbers to be delivered so that we can safely deliver the care and services that our patients need, now and in the future."