He added: “Physical appointments will always be a vital part of general practice, and they continue to be necessary for many patients and the management of specific conditions, and we must not lose sight of that.”

Echoing their concerns, Edel Harris, chief executive of the charity Mencap, said the shift could “seriously exacerbate the health inequalities that already exist for people with a learning disability.”

“The UK’s 1.5 million people with a learning disability should be offered face-to-face consultations automatically – without needing to ask for them,” she added. 

However, in his address to the Royal College of Physicians, Mr Hancock said there had been dramatic changes to how the NHS works as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and it could not be allowed to “fall back into bad old habits.”

“The crisis has shown that patients and clinicians alike, not just the young, want to use technology,” he added. “The feedback from this transformation has been hugely positive.

“So from now on, all consultations should be teleconsultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to,” he added.

“Of course if there is an emergency, the NHS will be waiting and ready to see you in person just as it always has been.

“But if they are able to, patients should get in contact first via the web or by calling in advance. That way care is easier to manage and the NHS can deliver a much better service.

“Not only will it make life quicker and easier for patients but free up clinicians to concentrate on what really matters.”

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