Media Release

Most GPs can’t offer video consultations for coronavirus response

Britain’s response to the coronavirus outbreak will be hampered by GP practices’ slow uptake of technology, a think-tank has said.

The Social Market Foundation said that most GP surgeries are unable to offer the video consultation that NHS chiefs say are vital to the Covid-19 response. 

NHS England has told doctors[1] that “all practices are now being advised to change face-to-face appointments booked online to triage appointments via telephone or video.”

However, SMF research has shown that technological take up across primary care in the UK is varied and often poor. 

While some leading groups have embraced technology, the overwhelming majority of GP surgeries are not equipped for video consultations, and many do not offer telephone consultations.

SMF analysis of NHS Digital data[2] from December 2019 shows that across England, on average 14% of GP appointments happen via telephone and 1% occur via video or online.

  • The region with the most remote appointments is the south-west, where 18% of patient contacts are by telephone.  
  • In four regions – London, the south-west, the south-east and the north-west, the proportion of video/online consultations is so low as to count as zero percent.

Figure 1: Proportion of GP appointments by telephone / video by region






Source: SMF analysis of NHS Digital Data (2020)

There is also significant variation in the use of remote consultation technology across the 211 Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) areas in England:

  • Three CCGs have embraced technology and conduct more than 25% of appointments remotely.
  • There are some CCG areas where less than 5% of appointments occur remotely.
  • There are 51 CCGs that conduct less than 10% of appointments by telephone.
  • Only one CCG conducts more than 5% of appointments by video/online.

Figure 2: Proportion of GP appointments via telephone or video / online by CCG







Source: SMF analysis of NHS Digital Data (2020)

(NHS data only covers 191 CCGs)

The SMF calculations were carried out by Kathryn Petrie, SMF Chief Economist.

Kathryn Petrie said:

“Advice to keeping patients out of surgeries makes sense, but it’s much easier said than done.

“The reality is that the NHS a whole, and GP practices in particular, have been slow to adopt the technology that would make remote consultation possible.

“There may be good reasons for that and this isn’t about blaming GPs, but the extreme variation in remote consultation rates shows that it is possible for many CCGs to do much better here.

“Faster and more consistent uptake of technology across the NHS will not just improve patients’ experience and increase efficiency, it will make the service better able to cope with future national emergencies.”

Media contacts:

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the SMF on:

James Kirkup, SMF director: and 07815 706 601

Barbara Lambert, SMF media officer: and 020 7222 7060

About the SMF:

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets.  The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.

The SMF retains complete editorial independence of its publications.

[1] March 5th NHS England letter to GPs:



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