GPs in Oxfordshire are struggling to cope with the demand for appointments as they work through backlogs caused by the pandemic.

According to Deddington Health Centre, waiting times for a routine check-up are currently between three to four weeks.

Latest figures show that only half of GP appointments in Oxfordshire were held face-to-face after major steps to ease coronavirus restrictions went ahead.

GP practices in Oxfordshire booked 34,292 more appointments in June 2021 than they did the previous month, and 43,614 more than they did in the June 2019, before the start of the pandemic, which has led to GP surgeries not being able to respond quick enough.

As a result, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has asked people to use alternate services for non-emergencies in order to reduce strain on the NHS.

They said: “GP practices in Oxfordshire are experiencing a significant increase in demand for services, which has resulted in an increase in patients contacting GP surgeries by phone.

“We are encouraging people to use the online consultation request for non-urgent inquiries. Consider a visit a visit to a local pharmacist for clinical advice on minor health concerns.

“For urgent issues out of hours, use the NHS 111 service as all these alternative ways of accessing care can help free up GP practice phone lines, which are always busy at the moment.”

Just last week charity The Patients Association has called for in-person appointments to be the default option, after it found patients nationally had struggled to access primary care in “ways that met their needs” throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Data from NHS England shows 346,000 GP appointments were carried out in June within the NHS Oxfordshire CCG area, 49 per cent of which involved a face-to-face meeting.

That was the same as in May, but a significant drop from 75 per cent in June 2019.

NHS England issued guidance to GP practices in May urging them to offer more face-to-face appointments.

But across England, just 56 per cent of consultations were held in person in June – a steep drop from the levels seen in June 2019, when 81 per cent of appointments were face-to-face.

The NHS cautioned a small number of appointments held via video call may have been logged as face-to-face appointments by GPs.

Rachel Power, chief executive of The Patients Association, said the charity welcomed the move to require practices to offer more in-person appointments to patients who want them, but investment was needed to ensure accessibility of primary care in the event of future pandemics.

She said: "Phone appointments, which is the other way most patients consult with their GPs, have become more common, and some patients like and will prefer them in future.

"But the pandemic shows the consequences of not investing adequately in the NHS."

The Royal College of GPs said GPs have worked hard to ensure the same level of care via remote consultations during the coronavirus crisis, but warned that general practice should not become a remote service post-pandemic.

Dr Gary Howsam, vice chairman, said: “GP practices, like other healthcare environments, are high risk for disease transmission and are at the centre of delivering care to vulnerable patients, so it is still vital to maintain infection control.

“Face-to-face consulting is a core part of general practice, and ideally, post-pandemic, we want decisions about consultation methods to be a joint one made between patients and practice teams.”

An NHS spokesman said GPs had carried out 275 million appointments during the pandemic, half of which took place in person and on the same or next day.

They added: “GPs and other practice staff such as nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics, will continue to offer patients the choice of face-to-face and remote appointments and in June almost 27 million appointments were delivered – in line with pre-pandemic levels.”

The Department for Health and Social Care said the Government was grateful for the "tireless" efforts of GPs and their teams.

A spokesman said: "The Government has invested £270 million to expand GP capacity so they can cope with the increased demands and recovery pressures as a result of Covid-19, and this comes on top of the £1.5 billion for extra staff committed for general practices until 2023-24.”