The number of virtual GP appointments has more than tripled since the coronavirus outbreak amid fears the practice could be here to stay.

A total of 48 per cent of GP appointments in May were conducted via phone or video calls, compared to 14 per cent in February, NHS figures reveal. 

Lockdown measures also saw the number of appointments decline by over 30 per cent, from 27.1 million in January to 16.4 million in May. 

It is thought the practice of virtual appointments will continue after lockdown restrictions are eased, prompting fears that serious diseases could be missed by GPs.

Professor Martin Marshall, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, predicted a 50/50 split between in person and virtual appointments in the future. 

A survey from the British Medical Association found that 95 per cent of GP respondents were providing remote consultations, with 88 per cent wanting the practice to continue.

Documents from the BMA and Royal College of GPs said that doctors should keep “maximising remote consultations” when the UK’s Covid-19 response level is lowered from its current three to two. 

When the level is dropped to one, meaning the pandemic is over, the document states “new ways of working” will have been established. 

But doctors have warned that virtual consultations can be “fraught with dangers”.

Former Health Minister and Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter expressed concern towards the trend, explaining that GPs are unable to properly examine their patients during a virtual appointment. 

“Virtual consultations can bring benefits for patients, but are also fraught with dangers,” he said. 

“A GP cannot properly examine a patient through a computer screen or over the phone, so the danger is that more vulnerable patients do not receive the care they need, or are forced to attend A&E.”

GP Dr James Davies echoed Dr Poulter’s fears, saying that there is “scope for the ongoing use of remote consultations”.

He said: “Remote working shouldn’t be used as an excuse to abandon face-to-face consultations wholesale and not open up GP surgeries as lockdown is relaxed.”

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