Patients told to consult GP via email

In the most recent government cut back, patients are being asked to examine themselves at home and email their GP describing their symptoms.

In a bid to save £1 billion, ministers want to cut the number of face-to-face GP appointments by asking patients to email through their symptoms, to be answered by the doctor between appointments or at the end of the day.

Those with long-term health conditions including heart failure, diabetes and lung disease, may be asked to measure their own blood pressure, glucose levels and temperature.

Thousands of patients in England have already been issued with handheld devices to collate their measurements to send though to surgeries, enabling GPs to devote their attention to the most seriously ill.

But the British Medical Association has warned that standards of care will be jeopardized for both those at home and those in the surgery if GPs are forced to respond to emails throughout the day.

‘My worry is that the patient won’t realize the severity of their disease and neither will the doctor as it won’t have been conveyed in the message,’ said Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA GP committee. ‘People with a very serious chest infection might just think it’s a cough.’

Dr Buckman also raised the fear that patient confidentiality could be put at risk as anyone could email a GP pretending to be a patient to elicit information. ‘It could be dangerous,’ says Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association.

A study by think tank 2020Health suggests the move would by cost-effective, leading to a dramatic fall in the numbers of emergency hospital admissions as doctors would have a regular updates on file and would be more likely to spot a sudden deterioration.

The Department of Health is carrying out a pilot scheme involving 6,000 patients with long-term illnesses in Cornwall, Kent and East London. The results will be published in the spring.

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