GROWING numbers of patients are returning to their GP but almost six in 10 are having their appointment over the phone.

NHS Digital data shows patients booked 267,448 appointments with practices in the NHS Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group area in June – 28 per cent more than in May.

While this was still 12 per cent fewer than during the previous June, demand in May was down by 36 per cent year-on-year.

In Oxfordshire, 58 per cent of sessions were completed over the phone in June, up from just 23 per cent a year ago.

ALSO READ: Person dies after getting struck by train

Nationally, 48 per cent were conducted over the phone, compared to 13 per cent last year.

In a recent speech to the Royal College of Physicians, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the switch to more remote consultations had been 'hugely positive'.

He called for all sessions to be done remotely unless there is a 'compelling clinical reason not to'.

But chief executive of the Patients Association Rachel Power said the Secretary of State should publish evidence showing this works for patients.

ALSO READ: Mental health team helping people into work wins award

She added: “Patients have put up with a great deal over recent months to help the NHS cope with an unprecedented emergency – often at considerable cost to their own health and wellbeing.

"Phone, online or other types of virtual appointments cannot be allowed to become the new normal without an assessment of the benefits to patients."

Dr Kiren Collison, clinical chair at Oxfordshire CCG, said: “During the course of the pandemic, GP practices across Oxfordshire have positively encouraged people to continue contacting their local surgery for medical advice and care if they have any non-Covid related concerns about their health. The increase in the numbers of appointments over the last couple of months is the result of increasing confidence among patients that they can access ‘routine’ services safely.

ALSO READ: Oxford coronavirus spike clears in latest figures

"GP practices and other health services have embraced technology to deal with the challenges thrown up by the pandemic to ensure they can continue to care for patients and keep them and staff safe."

She said these new ways of providing care – including video, online and telephone appointments - had been 'well received' by many and the CCG would be seeking 'detailed feedback' from patients in the next weeks and months to gauge how GPs can carry them forward after the pandemic.

Dr Collison added: "But of course we have to ensure that all patients continue to have access to health services, especially people who do not have access to technology, or can’t use it easily , or who are unable to leave their homes.

"GPs and other clinical professionals continue to see patients face-to-face in their surgeries where appropriate, using all the necessary safety procedures."