Virtual GP appointments could be here to stay - even after coronavirus has gone, a leading GP has suggested.

Doctors across Hertfordshire have moved to a mix of telephone and virtual appointments, as well as traditional face-to-face meetings since the outbreak of Covid-19.

In a meeting of the Hertfordshire Health and Wellbeing Board last week, it was suggested that technology may be here to stay.

Deputy head of the board, chairman of Herts Valleys CCG and Elstree and Bushey GP Dr Nicolas Small said it was important to understand the "enormous changes" the practices have made in the way that they communicate with their patients.

He said a virtual appointment could be as good - and sometimes better - than a traditional face-to-face, he also added they were "absolutely vital" in acute and mental health settings, in terms of getting access to medical opinions, advice and treatments.

But he stressed he was not under-estimating how important a face-to-face appointment could be and that there were particular instances where GPs would need to see patients.

He said that while sometimes people may have thought GPs were closed, in fact – with adequate PPE and the right precautions – GPs were continuing to see patients inside their premises.

Chairman of the East and North Herts CCG, Stevenage GP Prag Moodley said in his area most practices are operating by using the triage model.

He said: "Patients phone in for appointments, they go on a triage list and either the problem gets solved or they call for a face-to-face appointment, a video consultation or an e-consultation.

"The pandemic has accelerated the use of all of these technologies, which is good.

"I think going forward post-Covid – if there is a post-Covid period – the way we practise will change and hopefully will continue this way, where our patients will have easier access in getting advice and guidance very early on and those that need face to face will get seen much quicker."

Dr Moodley and Dr Small made these comments in response to a question from deputy leader of the county council Cllr Teresa Heritage.

She praised her own GP surgery in relation to virtual appointments and said they had been working "really well" and said the appointments gave patients peace of mind quite quickly by being able to speak to a GP.

But questioned whether there was consistency across the county around the use of these appointments - how they are obtained and how they are used.

Representing the voluntary sector chief executive of the Hertfordshire Independent Living Service, Sarah Wren, acknowledged the positive use of technology for many people – but not all.

She said: "Technology has be a really positive thing for many people in Hertfordshire and they are really engaging with it and definitely it’s one of the things we all need to keep.

"But there are people who are not able to engage with technology and also are so fearful of what’s happening that they are not seeking help from any services, which they really need to."

Ms Wren suggested to the board there was a need to prioritise pro-actively trying to get to these members of the population to ensure they are receiving the help that’s needed.

She then suggested the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations may be a very important part of that.