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Boots apologises for saying primary care ‘disappeared’ during COVID-19

Boots UK's chief executive Seb James has apologised for suggesting primary care workers had “disappeared” during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview yesterday morning (July 4) with the BBC, Mr James thanked his frontline staff for their “incredible” hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic, “at a time where primary care had more or less disappeared”.

“I think the Boots team did a really, really good job of managing that and it’s been tough on them,” he added.

Mr James’s comments were met with concern from the British Medical Association (BMA), which publicly condemned the implication that GP practices neglected patients last year.

“These comments are unfair and undermine the work of all primary care workers,” the BMA said in a statement.

“Since March 2020, GP staff in England have delivered over 173 million face-to-face appointments. Thanks need to be given to all frontline staff and healthcare workers for their efforts throughout this pandemic,” it added.

“Utmost respect for primary care workers”

Mr James has since apologised for his comments, stating: “I and everyone at Boots have the utmost respect and gratitude for all primary care workers including GPs - they are the backbone of primary care and I did not mean to suggest otherwise.

“I was referring to the fact that many locations had no choice but to close during the pandemic and in those situations we were happy to step in and help. This was really about thanking our teams and certainly not about diminishing the role of GPs,” he told C+D.

“Please forgive me if I chose the wrong words in the moment to describe this,” he added.

According to statistics published monthly by NHS Digital, the percentage of remote consultations in England rocketed in the first wave of the pandemic, going from 14% of all consultations in February 2020 to 48% in May of the same year.

The end of 2020 registered a trend reversal, with in-person appointments outnumbering phone consultations. Data showed that 60% (16.8 million) of appointments in October 2020 took place in person, while over a third (35%) were carried out over the phone.

In May, the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) joined calls urging NHS England and NHS Improvement to reconsider its position on mandating face-to-face GP practice appointments, explaining that the “diktat” would “increase the demand on already stretched services”.

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