The advice comes despite concern from health officials and scientific advisers in recent months that coronavirus infections in the community are being fuelled by transmission within healthcare settings.  

The letter from NHS England to all GPs said practices must now offer face-to-face appointments, while continuing to use video, online and telephone consultation whenever appropriate. 

It said “remote triage” should be used to assess which patients should be seen in person. 

Last week, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said all NHS consultations should be carried out by phone or video unless there was a “compelling clinical reason not to”.

The statement prompted concern from patient groups that older people and those without access to technology could lose access to care. 

The letter from NHS England said:  “All GP practices must offer face-to-face appointments at their surgeries as well as continuing to use remote triage and video, online and telephone consultation wherever appropriate – whilst also considering those who are unable to access or engage with digital services.”

GPs should also contact clinically vulnerable patients and those “whose care may have been delayed”, with catch-up programmes for vaccinations and screening programmes, the letter added. 

It also called for swift action to deal with backlogs, adding: “In restoring services, GP practices need to make rapid progress in addressing the backlog of childhood immunisations and cervical screening.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “It is mandatory for face coverings to be worn on public transport and in enclosed spaces like shops and supermarkets, and we strongly encourage the wearing of face coverings in other public spaces, such as healthcare settings, where social distancing may be difficult and where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.”

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