A lack of access to GPs, including face-to-face appointments, has put pressure on A&E departments, the Health Secretary has told MPs.
Sajid Javid said he believed part of the reason people turn up to A&E when they do not need to be there is “because they’re not able to get through to their primary care services in the usual way”.
Mr Javid was being questioned by MPs on the Commons Health and Social Care Committee about claims from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) that virtual GP appointments have led to increased demand on emergency departments.
Mr Javid said: “During the pandemic, it’s understandable why virtual access … became a necessity, for many people there was sadly no alternative because of all the necessary rules.
“Where we are with that now is that as we move back to normal, those rules that kept people away are no longer there, plus there will be people that stayed away from their GPs, understandably, when they were asked to protect the NHS … as (people) come forward, it is important that ultimately there’s a choice in terms of how they’re seen.
“I think as we get more and more access to primary care, that will certainly help with demand in accident and emergency care.”
He said there were figures showing a “significant portion of people are turning up for emergency care when they could have actually gone to their GP”.
He added: “That is not the fault of those people at all. They have stayed away from the NHS when they were asked to, they now want to be seen and that is right … but part of the reason I think people are turning up in A&E perhaps when they don’t need it is because they’re not able to get through to their primary care services in the usual way.”
Asked again if a lack of availability of GP appointments had led to increased pressure on A&E, he said: “I think that that general point is correct.”