GPs have had to make “difficult choices” about which patients to see during the Covid pandemic, a senior Scottish Government adviser said.
Professor Jason Leitch, the national clinical director, insisted however it would “not be the right thing to do” to force family doctors back to conduction all appointments on a face to face basis.
The Scottish Government’s NHS recovery plan seeks to “fully restore face to face consultations in GP surgeries and other primary care services as a priority”.
It comes after GPs and other medical professionals moved to telephone and video consultations after coronavirus hit Scotland.
But more than 18 months after the pandemic began, MSPs on Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee questioned Prof Leitch and Scottish Government minister Graeme Dey on the level of access to GPs.
Labour MSP Alex Rowley said: “People out there in communities who are feeling ill are finding it difficult to get a face to face appointment.”
He stated: “I know from people who have contacted me, struggling to get a GP appointment, struggling to see anybody in the medical centres.
“They eventually present themselves to the hospital and find out that it is cancer and it has moved on stages.”
Prof Leitch stressed that GP practices had been “open throughout” the pandemic but added: “They have had to make some difficult choices about who to see and who to see on line and who to do with phone calls.”
He also said that face-to-face appointments “never went away,” explaining: “Some people get face to face appointments.
“The decision on who is based on safety and the health of those individuals and that has to be clinical decisions made locally.”
But Mr Rowley argued: “There is a responsibility on government when people feel ill and feel they need to have a face to face appointment with a medical person it is the responsibility of government to ensure those people can access face to face appointments.”
Conservative MSP Brian Whittle said there was a “variance of approach across the country for accessibility to GPs” as he told how one elderly relative of his had ended up in hospital after being unable to get an appointment, but said his parents could still “phone up the GP and it is as easy as anything to walk in and get a GP appointment”.
He suggested the situation should be monitored because of the “huge variance across the country”.
Mr Dey, the Scottish Government transport minister said he would ask the “relevant health minister” to write to the committee about the issue.
He stated: “Clearly as transport minister that’s not something I am expert in responding to, but it might be worthwhile if I ask health colleagues to write to the committee on that point.”